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URMC research opens door for a blood test to diagnose concussion injury and recovery

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What if a simple blood test could not only indicate when someone has suffered a concussion, but also determine when their brain has healed and predict how long that might take? Tests by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center prove it works.

"It's very exciting," said Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian of URMC.

Justin Wurzer has been known to take skiing to the extreme, which sometimes comes with consequences. A recent video documents a fall on the slopes.

"I had headaches after that for awhile," he told 13WHAM's Jane Flasch.

The 17 -year-old knows all about concussions. After this third - in his sophomore year - he was sidelined for good as a special teams player at Fairport High. Before that, in grade school, getting cleared to play depended.

"I got knocked out once, and they just had me take a day off practice," he said. "Three years later, when I got one, I had to stay out for weeks."

"Right now, we have to try to determine when the brain is healed from a concussion without actually being able to look at that brain," explained Dr. Bazarian. Doctors have relied on indicators like headaches while trying to gauge imprecise measures of attention and memory.

Now, along comes help from the brain itself. URMC researchers discovered a protein called tau that is released into the blood when the walls of brain cells are damaged.

"We can find out whether there has been damage to the cells in the brain, and that helps us diagnose that a concussion occurred in the first place," said Dr. Bazarian.

Read More: URMC research opens door for a blood test to diagnose concussion injury and recovery

Brain Protein Predicts Recovery Time Following Concussion

Monday, January 9, 2017

Elevated levels of the brain protein tau following a sport-related concussion are associated with a longer recovery period and delayed return to play for athletes, according to a study published in the January 6, 2017 issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The findings suggest that tau, which can be measured in the blood, may serve as a marker to help physicians determine an athlete’s readiness to return to the game.

Despite the 3.8 million sports-related concussions that occur annually in the United States, there are no objective tools to confirm when an athlete is ready to resume play. Returning to play too early, before the brain has healed, increases an athlete’s risk of long-term physical and cognitive problems, especially if he or she sustains another concussion. Currently, physicians and trainers must make return-to-play decisions based on an athlete’s subjective, self-reported symptoms and their performance on standardized tests of memory and attention.

A team led by Jessica Gill, R.N., Ph.D. of the National Institute of Nursing Research at the National Institutes of Health and Jeffrey Bazarian, M.D., M.P.H. of the University of Rochester Medical Center evaluated changes in tau in 46 Division I and III college athletes who experienced a concussion. Tau, which plays a role in the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was measured in preseason blood samples and again within 6 hours following concussion using an ultra-sensitive technology that allows researchers to detect single protein molecules.

Read More: Brain Protein Predicts Recovery Time Following Concussion