A new study published in the November issue of the journal Academic Emergency Medicine has found that a simple blood test may be able to accurately detect concussion in children—good news for the roughly 250,000 kids who are treated for brain injuries each year. This news comes on the heels of the announcement that the U.S. Soccer Federation has banned the use of headers (when a player hits the soccer ball with her head) for children younger than 10.
According to study author Dr. Linda Papa, an emergency medicine physician with Orlando Health in Florida, the blood test—which is already used in adults and which correctly detected traumatic brain injuries in kids in 94 percent of the cases studied—could take the guesswork out of a concussion diagnosies and change the way this injury is identified.
"When a child comes in with a head injury, we have to decide whether they have a concussion," Dr. Papa said. "We also have to decide whether the child needs a CT scan. A CT scan exposes the child's brain to radiation that can cause damage. The more we avoid CT scans, the better it is for the patient."
Without a scan, concussions in children are currently diagnosed only by symptoms such as vomiting, balance problems, headaches, blurred vision, or feeling groggy. But the blood test works by measuring levels of GFAP (glial fibrillary acidic protein), a protein found in cells that surround neurons in the brain. When the brain is injured, GFAP is released into the bloodstream, making it easy to detect, according to Papa.
Now she wants to develop a mobile test that could be given wherever an injury occurs— like on the playing field, for example, to help coaches and trainers decide whether a child can get back in the game.
"This could ultimately change the way we diagnose concussions," Papa said in a statement. "We have so many diagnostic blood tests for different parts of the body, like the heart, liver, and kidneys, but there's never been a reliable blood test to identify trauma in the brain. We think this test could change that."
The researchers plan to validate their results by studying a larger group of children and hope a test will be available within the next five years.