The FDA has approved the first-ever blood test that can detect signs of concussions, a huge step forward in the quest to make concussion diagnosis faster and more accurate.
The two main ways of detecting concussions now are giving patients a neurological test or, frequently, a CT scan. The neurological tests are not always accurate because the medical professional giving the test often isn’t familiar with the patient’s baseline performance. And CT scans, while a powerful diagnostic tool, expose people to high doses of radiation – about the equivalent of 100-200 chest X-rays – and are very expensive.
So it’s not that we don’t have ways of diagnosing concussions, it’s that our current method is akin to using a sledgehammer to pound a small nail. What’s missing is a way to figure out who should be given a CT scan for further diagnosis, and who doesn’t need it. This is where the blood test comes in.
The blood test works by measuring two proteins the brain releases into the blood after a head injury. The levels of these proteins will indicate whether the patient has lesions on their brain that will be visible in a CT scan or not. And it’s very accurate – it can predict the presence of a lesion 97.5% of the time, and determine who doesn’t have a lesion 99.6% of the time.
Though sports – football in particular – immediately come to mind (no pun intended) on the topic of concussions, the urgency of this drug development was actually a result of military necessity. As traumatic brain injuries have mounted during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed forces have been desperately seeking a way to quickly predict whether a blow to the head has caused bleeding or bruising in the brain (and, therefore, what the best plan of treatment is). The development of this blood test, as well as the clinical trials preceding FDA approval, were largely underwritten by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. Test results can currently be obtained in 3-4 hours, but the Defense Department is working with the drug company to reduce that window to one hour.
Why It’s Hot: The funding and pressure from the armed forces had a huge impact on the speed of this blood test’s development and FDA approval. It will certainly benefit the men and women serving in the military, but it also has a massive wider impact on the general public, as well as other people at high risk for brain injuries (athletes, etc). What other medtech breakthroughs can we look forward to from unexpected sources?
Learn More: Engadget | LA Times