Blood test may one day help doctors diagnose concussions

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Concussions are in the news almost daily because of the impact they are having in the sports world, especially football. Right now, doctors can only deduce this type of head injury by checking symptoms or expensive imaging tests. But researchers at University of California, San Francisco say a blood test may change all that.

Sean Sanford showed us the long scar that arcs from front to back on's the skateboarding accident two years ago that brought Sanford to Zuckerberg UCSF Medical Center. He writes about skateboarding for the magazine Lowcard and was with friends doing a trick he had done dozens of times before.

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"And I hit my head on the corner of the ledge on my way down and was knocked out," he said.

Turns out he suffered a fractured skull, but it took intricate, and expensive imaging tests to make the diagnosis.

The first piece of diagnostic equipment most people suspected of having a concussion will usually see is a CT scanner. Problem is it doesn't always tell the doctor very much.

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"This is a negative head CT, and by negative we mean we don't see any blood or acute injury," said Neurosurgeon Dr. Geoffrey Manley.

Dr. Manley showed us a sample CT scan that shows no signs of a traumatic brain injury. But he says a later MRI showed little black dots indicative of bleeding in the brain, the definition of a brain injury. An MRI takes an hour and costs thousands of dollars. Manley co-authored a study that says a cheap blood test that takes 15 minutes may one day be just as effective.

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"The excitement about this study is that we have a protein that's only expressed in the brain that when you have injuries, even more subtle that can be picked up on a head CT, that one can pick them up on this test," Dr. Manley said.

The test is still in the experimental stage, but Dr. Manley says it's importance in the emergency room and on the football field where injuries may lead to the deadly ailment CTE.

"Because I think we are definitely missing people by using only the brain CT," Dr. Manley said.

Dr. Manley says the blood test would also decrease radiation exposure from the imaging tests.
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