is a blood test a useful diagnostic tool for brain trauma

A recently published study by researchers from several renowned academic institutions and medical establishments, including the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, has made some altogether remarkable findings concerning the short-term diagnosis and long-term treatment of brain injuries.

The study, published in the medical journal Frontiers in Neurology, set out to determine whether it is possible to use a simple blood test to distinguish between those patients who have suffered a concussion/head injury that will heal relatively quickly, and those who have suffered a concussion/head injury that will take significantly more time and treatment to heal.

Researchers structured the study around a protein known as calpain-cleaved alphaII-spectrin proteolytic fragment — or SNTF — which is released from degenerating neurons. In general, SNTF is easy to detect in a person’s bloodstream after a significant neurological event like an ischemic stroke or major head injury, serving as a sort of “biomarker” that a traumatic brain injury has occurred.

As part of the study, the researchers set out to determine whether slightly higher than normal SNTF levels in the bloodstream could nevertheless serve as a biomarker for lower-level brain injuries requiring more significant treatment.

Here, the researchers discovered that 30 test subjects who reported to the hospital with some sort of minor head injury and who had SNTF levels that were at least twice the threshold of detection, had indeed suffered structural brain damage that was otherwise detectable via imaging technology.

While the researchers acknowledge that much more work remains to be done in order to determine whether the presence of a protein in the blood is indicative of a more serious brain injury, they were nevertheless enthused by their findings.

That’s because unlike other medical conditions, brain injury symptoms vary from person to person and are not always obvious from a basic examination.

Consider what happens in a busy hospital setting, where a harried physician may forgo imaging tests and diagnose a patient’s complaints of dizziness, blurred vision and loss of balance not as a minor brain injury, but rather as symptoms of another less serious condition. Here, a simple blood test might help prevent this problem from occurring and ensure that the patient receives the proper treatment going forward.

If medical negligence has resulted in a serious brain injury, consider speaking with an experienced attorney dedicated to holding all parties accountable for their actions.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, “Could a blood test detect concussion with lasting disability?” Melissa Healy, Nov. 20, 2013

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