Researchers from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) have conducted a study to demonstrate that a new blood test could help emergency room doctors to quickly diagnose traumatic brain injury (TBI) and also determine its severity.
The study included measurement of the levels of three proteins they suspected will play a role in brain cell activity in more than 300 patients with a TBI and 150 patients without brain injuries.
The scientists followed the study with a TBI for the next six months, and discovered the levels of one protein, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) could predict the severity of a TBI and how a patient would fare.
Approximately 60 nanograms (ng) per millilitre (mL) of BDNF was detected in bloodstreams of healthy people, while patients with brain injuries averaged less than 20ng/mL.
Patients suffering with the most severe TBIs recorded lower levels of 4ng/mL.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine emergency medicine assistant professor Frederick Korley said: "The advantage of being able to predict prognosis early on is that you can advise patients on what to do, recommend whether they need to take time off work or school, and decide whether they need to follow up with a rehab doctor or neurologist."
Additionally, the test could help decide which patients to enrol in clinical trials for new drugs or therapies targeting severe TBIs.
Patients with high levels of BDNF were found to have recovered from their injuries after six months, but those with low levels still had BDNF symptoms at follow-up.
Overall, the results suggest that a test for BDNF levels, administered in the emergency room, is likely to help stratify patients.
The scientists plan to follow-up with more research at a molecular level on the connection between brain injuries and lower levels of BDNF in the blood.
The scientists also want to know whether things known to increase BDNF levels, including exercise and omega-3 fatty acids, could help treat TBIs. Findings were published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.
Image: MRI scan showing damage due to brain herniation after a traumatic brain injury. Photo: courtesy of Rehman T, Ali R, Tawil I and Yonas H.