Trauma Test: Concussions in athletes

Athletes who play contact sports know there are risks.

Some are obvious, but the invisible injury of a concussion can be hard to detect.

Stacey Hollin’s son plays middle school football, and she thinks about the risks.

“I say ‘Don’t hit ‘em so hard!” she laughs.  “But he said he just likes to see ‘em when they bounce off the ground!”

The possibility of traumatic brain injury doesn’t diminish his enthusiasm for football.

“He loves it. He loves everything about it” she beams.

Coaches worry too.

“Players have been having concussions and didn’t even know they had concussions”, Dorchester High Coach Raul Brown says.

It’s difficult to know on the sidelines if a player has a concussion, and he believes a definitive test would change things tremendously for everyone involved.

The brain is the only organ in the body that doesn’t have a blood test to see if something is wrong…

Until now.

“This feels like science fiction when you’re thinking about the level of detection that you’re doing in the blood”, Kevin Hrusovsky says; explaining the work being at his firm’s Lexington, MA lab.

Hrusovsky is the CEO of Quanterix, a company doing “rocket science on the blood” to detect telltale proteins that reveal signs of trauma to the brain.

“What happens when you have a concussion” he says, “is the brain and some of the cells and neurons release some proteins that are evident in the cerebral spinal fluid.”

Some of that fluid leaks into the blood at a minute level, and Quanterix technology can pull information from it.

Scientific papers published about the company’s early protein work caught the attention of the U.S. military.

Before long the NFL took notice as well, backing the research.

They quickly realized the impact it could have on athletes of all ages.

“We know that youth athletes, if they have a head injury – and return too quickly – they could die,” says Boston University Professor Dr. Robert Stern.

He’s one of the nation’s top repetitive brain injury researchers, and he is very encouraged that this test could help save lives.

“Having the ability to measure changes in proteins right after the injury…” he says,  pondering the advancement, “That’s going to be a huge game changer.”

Scientists still have a way to go to get the test out of the lab and available for use on the sidelines.

They are hoping to have a portable test ready for use by 2017.