Biomarkers Could be Used to Diagnose and Treat Head Injuries
People wanting to learn more about their head injury and their healing time have trouble finding this information because head injuries and caring for them can be very imprecise. This is why biomarkers are so important: they can give precise measurements from a simple blood test. Biomarkers are substances in the blood that can point to what is happening in the body. Cancer researchers for instance use them to detect different types of cancer. Brain injuries are still very complicated and researchers are still trying to figure out how to measure the effect a concussion has on the brain. Currently, doctors can only make a diagnosis based on the patient’s history and a clinical evaluation, which looks at symptoms like dizziness and headaches. This isn’t ideal because these symptoms can be caused by something else.
Doctors can utilize MRIs and CT scans, but brains can appear normal when someone has an actual concussion. They are great for finding swelling or bleeding that can be life threatening, but beyond this, they are not that great. They are also very expensive and expose patients to radiation, which should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Doctors are choosing to turn to biomarkers since all it takes is getting some blood drawn. A new blood test was approved by the FDA to assess the severity of a head injury, but the test is not widely available.
Different proteins, ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase-L1 (UCH-L1) and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) are measured in the test, helping the doctors determine if there is brain damage. In a study from 2019, UCH-L1 and GFAP proteins were measured in 700 trauma patients. Patients with no head trauma had the lowest levels of these proteins, while people who hit their head but were not diagnosed with a concussion had higher levels, and people diagnosed with concussions had the highest levels. GFAP was the better of the two proteins because it helped distinguish the three separate groups while UCH-L1 also rose with orthopedic injuries, so it is much less useful and not good enough to diagnose head trauma.
This research is great and very promising, but head injuries are so nuanced that more biomarkers need to be found to make better diagnoses. A research team looked at UCH-L1 and GFAP and other biomarkers in sports concussions by comparing the blood samples of more than 250 college athletes to non-concussed athletes who play contact sports and athletes who do not play contact sports or were diagnosed with concussions. The athletes with concussions had higher levels of GFAP either one or two days after injury and in some cases much later. UCH-L1 levels also went up.
These biomarker tests can also help doctors find injuries that were previously undetected since some head injuries can cause damage but not create noticeable symptoms. If a test that could find sub concussive injuries was found, athletes needing more recovery time could be isolated and treated. Concussion sufferers who only need a little rest could recover and get back faster if the tests come back clean. The biomarkers IL-6 and IL-1RA are promising contenders that could help determine if people need more time. More resting time could also help prevent musculoskeletal injuries, since after a concussion occurs, musculoskeletal injuries are twice as likely to occur.
This research is new so we need to manage our expectations. It could take years before a test like this is ready to be used accurately. Currently, people who sustain head injuries need to go to the doctor and be extremely cautious and return to a sport slowly. It cannot hurt to get more rest, so take it slow, get more rest, and listen to your body if it tells you it is not ready.
Do you have CTE or another head injury? You could be entitled to compensation. Contact us today to see if we can get you the compensation you deserve by calling 412-471-3980 or filling out our contact form.