Patients with suspected brain injuries could avoid having to undergo scan after scan and discover if they injured through a simple blood test, a new study suggests.
Currently, patients are diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries via CT scans, which can be costly and not pick up subtle degrees of injury.
But the researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York say the test can determine if two proteins are present in the blood and from there, medical staff can decide if a scan is needed.
If effective, the test could be a gold mine for detecting conditions from concussions to more severe ones such as bleeding or bruising in the brain.
But there is already skepticism from several health professionals about how much the test could improve cost and efficiency or the possibility that the test will ‘miss’ some injuries in patients who are in need of care.
A new blood test could detect brain injuries and eliminate a number of unnecessary scans, a new study has found (file image)
A similar test is already available in Europe but, in the US, it’s the first of its kind.
For the study, the researchers looked at about 2,000 patients with suspected brain injuries who went to emergency departments in either the US or Europe between 2012 and 2014.
Within 12 hours of their injury, the patients had a CT scan and a blood test, which looked for the presence of two brain proteins, UCH-L1 and GFAP, to detect if there was brain bleeding.
‘When someone is hit in the head, if severe enough, the brain cells gets injured and release their component proteins,’ lead author Dr Jeffrey Bazarian, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center told Daily Mail Online.
‘If the blood-brain barrier is open, then these proteins find their way into the blood.’
Dr Bazarian added that these proteins don’t show up in the blood when there are injuries to other organs, or parts of the body.
He said if the test is negative, meaning the proteins are not detected in the blood, it is unlikely that there is bleeding in the brain and a patient doesn’t need a CT scan.
But, if the test is positive, it means the patient could have brain bleeding and should receive a scan.
The researchers found the test to be nearly 98 percent effective in detecting brain bleeding or injury, meaning that it ‘missed’ few injuries.
They say there were just three patients for which a CT scan showed there was an injury but the blood test came back negative.
From these findings, Dr Bazarian suggests that performing the blood test could cut down on the number of CT scans by up to 35 percent.
The blood test, which was approved by the FDA in February of this year, could be conducted as little as 20 minutes, he added.
‘US emergency departments are very crowded and one of the choke points is the CT scan,’ Dr Bazarian said.
‘So if someone is in the waiting room with a brain injury, they could have their blood drawn in the waiting room and can avoid even getting into the queue for the scan.’
The manufacturers of the test, Banyan Biomarkers, say it will first be used in emergency rooms but they hope it can be expanded into football medical rooms and in combat zones.
‘The test has shown that it can detect bleeding in the brain but now the next step is going to show if someone has a concussion,’ Dr Bazarian said.
‘The Holy Grail is to be able to say someone has brain injury, but do they have a concussion or not. Science goes in baby steps and this is the first step.’
Doubt among medical professionals, however, runs rampant.
In a commentary published alongside the study, researchers not involved with the study wrote they are not convinced that the blood test is cost-saving or efficient and that it does not detect all types of brain injuries.
Additionally, they added they presume the value of implementing the test into clinical practice is slim to none.
But Dr Bazarian says he believes this test provides an ‘objective’ marker for doctors and patients as opposed to the ‘subjective’ guidelines used to suggest a CT scan.
‘The way the study was designed was that clinicians had already decided these patients should have a CT scan using their guidelines,’ Dr Bazarian said.
‘Time is money in emergency departments so if we can cut that time down, we could save money.’