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A newly authorized device will allow doctors to detect traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in under 15 minutes, potentially saving lives by dramatically shortening the time it takes to properly diagnose the issue. Being called “a huge milestone that has never been done before,” the novel advancement is a blood test for the brain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a traumatic brain injury as a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury. A concussion is the mildest form of TBI, but patients may suffer a myriad of physical, cognitive, emotional, and sleep symptoms. Some of the most common signs include confusion, headaches, blurry or double vision, dizziness, fatigue, memory loss, difficulties with concentration, and insomnia.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability in the U.S., recently becoming a major health crisis. There were 2.87 million TBI-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in 2014. Moreover, according to data quoted by Statista, there were 61,131 cases of traumatic brain injury-related deaths in the U.S. in 2017. Athletes and older people are the most at-risk of TBIs.
Unfortunately, many patients with mild TBI struggle to get an accurate and timely diagnosis, even as they grapple with ongoing symptoms. This ultimately results in delayed treatment. Doctors often use a series of screening questionnaires, physical examinations and CT scans to take pictures of the brain in order to evaluate TBI. This is why the blood test is being regarded as a game-changer.
Quoted by ABC News, Dr. Beth McQuiston, medical director for Abbott’s diagnostic businesses, explained: “Until now, health care providers have needed to rely on subjective measurements for TBIs, but we finally have a more objective tool to help evaluate patients.” Multiple independent experts interviewed by ABC News said that this test for the brain may chart a new era in medical care for patients with TBI.
Currently, there are no objective tests in order to diagnose a concussion. As Dr. Farng-Yang Foo, a neurologist at NYU Langone Health’s Concussion Center explained to ABC News, much of the diagnosis is by self-report of the patient which ultimately makes it hard to make a diagnosis.
The new blood test may serve as an objective tool to help doctors triage TBI patients, because it relies on molecular signatures in the blood rather than on murkier clues, such as patient interviews. The test requires a small blood sample drawn from the arm, from which plasma is extracted and inserted into the handheld instrument.
“The test will help them decide who needs to get a CT or MRI and who does not,” said Dr. Steven Flanagan, chair of rehabilitation medicine and co-director of the Concussion Center at NYU Langone Health.
Dr. Geoffrey Manley, chief of neurosurgery at San Francisco General Hospital and principal investigator of TRACK-TBI, told ABC News this new test will improve patient flow in busy emergency rooms. “I’m hoping there will be widespread adoption of this tool because it will facilitate getting people through the system quicker, getting people out of the emergency department that don’t need to sit there for 3 hours waiting for a head CT,” he said.
The test was developed in collaboration with the Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in Traumatic Brain Injury (TRACK-TBI) research team and the U.S. Department of Defense.