A finger-prick blood test could uncover sports concussions on the field

An athlete is playing football and gets slammed in the head during a game. Does he have a concussion? Researchers at the University of Rochester in New York and their German colleagues came up with a finger prick biomarker blood test that could quickly and cheaply answer that question in the future, helping to keep injured athletes out of the game and avoid additional harm.

The Wall Street Journal highlights their work, published in PLOS ONE Jan. 8. If further studies can support the initial findings, the test could help add a more definitive option to the roster of concussion diagnostic tools. According to the Brain Trauma Foundation (BTF), traditional symptomatic or other diagnostic assessments have their merit, but often take substantial amounts of time. What's more, CAT and MRI scans can miss things, the BTF's website explained.

As The Wall Street Journal noted, the research team's work focuses on an injury biomarker known as S100B, a brain protein. First, they measured S100B baseline levels from 46 subjects who played contact sports in both Rochester and Munich. Then they gauged S100B levels with a finger-prick blood test in 17 patients who appeared to have concussions based on their symptoms within three hours of injury. The results: S100B levels appeared to jump at least 46% above the baseline measurement in players who faced head injury and consistently pointed to concussion.

According to the article, S100B testing doesn't have FDA approval yet. But it is already in play in Europe in the assessment of potential concussion patients. One potential obstacle: The equipment can be cumbersome. Industry has already stepped in to develop S100B finger-prick tests that would be simple to use. The WSJ posits that coaches could ensure their use during a football game, but such a simple test would also have some benefit in more general emergency situations involving head trauma.

A test involving players is by no means definitive, but it is a good start. Early diagnostics could prevent further harm, but also allow for quicker treatment. Assuming further trials also succeed, a finger-prick blood test for concussion could make a difference on the field or beyond.

- read the full WSJ story (sub. req.)
- here's the journal article

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