Canadian-made blood test for concussions could radically simplify diagnosis
Medical researchers in London, Ont. say they have developed a simple blood test that can detect if someone has suffered a concussion with more than 90 per cent accuracy – a finding that may eventually replace current tests that rely on patients to describe their own symptoms.
Concussions are notoriously difficult to diagnose and don’t appear on brain scans. The traumatic brain injuries have become a major public health concern, particularly among athletes in high-impact sports like hockey and football.
The blood test uses a small sample of blood drawn from someone within 72 hours of a sudden blow to the head to measure 174 brain chemicals that change in response to a brain injury. Doctors then run tests on the blood to search for signs of a concussion.
“We take a vial of blood, we do the work in the lab, we run it through the mathematics and it tells us (if someone is) very likely to be concussed or very likely not concussed,” Mark Daley, associate vice president of research at Western University, told CTV News.
Researchers say the test is accurate about nine times out of ten, which they say would make it the most accurate concussion test in the world.
The findings, made by scientists from Western University and the Lawson Health Research Institute, were published in December in the international medical journal Metabolomics.
Researchers say the science could help identify concussed athletes early so they can take time to recover before returning to sports.
At the moment, doctors rely on their own judgement and a patient’s description of their symptoms to diagnose concussions. Diagnosis can be difficult and, in some cases, concussions go undetected.
Scientists hope the new blood test will make testing more certain.
“The advantages are it takes away the guessing. So right away we would know if somebody has truly had a concussion,” said Dr. Douglas Fraser, a clinician and scientist at the Lawson Health Research Institute who led the study.
Researchers are now working to confirm the accuracy of the blood test in more athletes and military personnel. The goal is for the blood test to become a widely-used diagnostic tool within the next five years.
Parker Smith, 17, was an up-and-coming hockey player when he suffered a concussion on the ice. But because the signs of a concussion weren’t apparent, he returned to hockey – and was hit two more times.
When Smith finally learned about the severity of the cumulative injuries, he was taken off the ice for good.
“I returned too soon the first time because I was feeling good and everything was going well for me. But on the inside I really wasn’t ready to get hit again,” he said.
Had an early and accurate test for concussions been available, Smith said he may still be able to play hockey.
“My brain really wasn’t ready to get hit again, so if they could’ve determined that using my blood then that could’ve saved my hockey career.”
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip and files from The Canadian Press