Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), of which concussions are most common, are considered an invisible epidemic. An analysis of self-reported TBIs among Canadians demonstrated an annual percent change of 9.6% over the years 2005 to 2014. Although the majority of Canadians seek medical attention within 48 hours of experiencing a potential TBI, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported 50% of Canadians have little or no knowledge about concussions and only 15% can correctly identify the best ways to treat them.
Our brains release two proteins into the bloodstream following injury: GFAP and UCH-L1. A prospective cohort study involving over 700 ER patients used these proteins as biomarkers for concussion and subconcussive injuries (which often show no overt symptoms or immediate effects). While computed tomography (CT) scans are currently used to help diagnose concussions, many patients have normal results. Evaluating GFAP and UCH-L1 levels in the blood can help make diagnosis more accurate and reliable.
Several companies are developing tools to detect these biomarkers, including a bench-top device for hospital labs, as well as hand-held devices which can be used at sporting events, in ambulances and even by the military. Researchers are putting their heads together to combine biomarkers and biotechnology to end this epidemic!