A new blood test to detect the presence of concussions could change the way athletes and coaches respond to head injuries, according to researchers from Orlando Health in Florida.
The findings, published in the Journal American Medical Association (JAMA), showed that high levels of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) are released into the bloodstream following a head injury.
These elevated protein levels can be detectable up to a week after the trauma has been sustained.
While such a test could remove the guesswork from diagnosing concussions, it’s not without drawbacks.
For starters, diagnostic equipment and trained staff would need to be employed on the sidelines of any contact sport.
“I don’t think it would be really cost effective, especially at the collegiate level,” said Jamie DeRollo, head athletic trainer at Delta College.
Furthermore, despite the growing concerns over concussions in sports, the current sideline protocol for assessing potential brain trauma isn’t lacking in efficiency.
Delta College, as with most community college athletic programs in California, employs baseline testing for its athletes in order to screen for concussions later should the need arise.
“If and when we suspect a concussion that’s a tool we use,” said DeRollo. “We have our own tests and they usually can tell.”
Perhaps the biggest impact the new blood test will have will be in dictating the decision to clear a player’s return to the field.
Some symptoms associated with concussions, such as headaches and dizziness, dissipate before the brain has actually healed.
However, abnormally high levels of GFAP in the bloodstream will make obtaining medi- cal clearance more objective and less subjective.
As a result, athletes could see a reduced risk of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition caused by the types of repetitive injuries suffered by athletes who return to action too soon after head trauma
Delta College football player Jared Bronson has not suffered the effects of a concussion first- hand, but has had teammates who have. He points out that despite the increased emphasis on safety precautions, players can still be stubborn.
“Players just want to go out and do their thing, make their hits,” he said. The instinct for many players, according to Bronson, is to say, “I’m good, I’m ready to go.”
If nothing else, knowing that a blood test can provide definitive proof of a concussion may dissuade many athletes from attempting to hide their ailments.
“The culture’s changing,” said DeRollo. “We’ve been doing a lot of education, players are more prone to self-report (injuries) and they know that their teammates are more prone to report on them.”