New blood test detects concussions

If you're the parent of a child who plays sports, you'll want to hear this.

A new study is out showing that researchers have been able to detect concussions in children using a simple blood test. This test could help take the guess work out of diagnosing concussions and keep kids safer in the future.

It's estimated a quarter of a million kids a year end up in the hospital with concussions from playing sports, and Kate Ratliff was one of them. Ratliff was diving for a ball recently when she collided with another player, and at first, didn't seem to be seriously hurt.

"We actually didn't get her checked out right away because she didn't have the symptoms right at the beginning, but a couple of hours later she started vomiting and had a headache," said Misty Ratliff, Kate's mother.

That's not uncommon. Symptoms of a concussion in a child can be subtle and delayed, and the longer it's left untreated, the worse the damage can be.

"There really is a need to try to detect these injuries early. And with the tools we have now, they're really not sensitive enough to detect all of these injuries," said Dr. Linda Papa from Orlando Health.

Papa and her team of researchers at Orlando Health have developed a way to detect even mild concussions using a simple blood test.

In a recent study, Papa took blood from 152 children who had brain injuries, then gave each a CT scan. As expected, the scans detected even small lesions on the brain, but so did the blood tests.

Biomarkers in the blood identified brain injuries with ninety-four percent accuracy, and even told doctors how severe the injuries were.

"We're looking at different types of lesions we find on CT scans, those that are more severe than less severe, and the bio-marker actually is elevated in the more severe injuries," said Papa.

The test could lead to a device like those used in diabetes, one that would analyze a drop of blood to diagnose a concussion on the spot.

"The idea is to try to get a point-of-care test that could be used on the field, to help the coaches, and the trainers and the athletic directors, make a decision about whether the child should go back to play," said Papa.

Researchers say the test is so accurate because it looks for a bio-marker in the blood known as GFAP. That's a protein found in the brain that is only released into the bloodstream when there is an injury. The study is published in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine.