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Blood test being developed to better diagnose traumatic brain injuries

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Temple University scientists believe their test can detect changes in brain cells to measure the severity of head trauma.

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FILE PHOTO - A CT scanner in Wuhan, China.
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According to the Philly Voice, a new blood test has been developed at Temple University that could lead to more timely and accurate diagnoses of concussions and traumatic brain injuries. The blood test’s developers Dr. Servio Ramirez and Dr. Yuri Persidsky have been awarded $700,000 by the University City Science Center to further hone the test and prepare it for use in various fields.

Ramirez and Persidsky’s test relies on the fact that brain injuries cause microscopic changes to cells inside the brains’ blood vessels. Those changes include vesicles (liquid filled structures found within cells) being released from their cells (thus becoming extracellular vesicles or EVs).

Vesicles and EVs facilitate communication between cells during a wide array of cellular processes, such as metabolism. In 2013, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to a team that presented groundbreaking discoveries regarding how vesicle dysfunctions contributes to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The symptoms of AD are caused by the clumping of corrupted tau proteins in the brain (chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is caused in the same way).

Blood vessels throughout the body leak particles like EVs on a pretty regular basis. However, this is not the case within the brain. The brain includes a barrier of blood vessels that prevent things leaking out of the bloodstream. Cells in the brain are also packed especially tight to prevent leaks.

Ramirez described this defense system as something like a wooden picket fence, with close slats designed to keep out pets and soccer balls. Ramirez compared traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) to hurricanes that rip off wooden slats in a fence, allowing all manner of debris to get through (including broken parts of the fence itself).

When particles leak into the brain, as a result of a TBI, they can disrupt neural communication systems.

Ramirez and Persidsky’s blood test is designed to measure how many EVs are released into the brain during those injuries. They believe that the more severe the injury, the more EVs get released.

The test results could help doctors give patients a more accurate description of their injuries and, as a result, proscribe them better care regimens. For athletes the test results could give them a more accurate window of recovery and set a safer time for them to return to action.

The blood test is being considered especially useful for diagnosing mild brain trauma (which is associated with concussions and sub-concussive blows), which largely goes undetected during traditional imagining tests (such as MRIs or CT scans). The test could also be used in situations where brain scans should be avoided unless absolutely necessary, like in pediatric medicine.

For combat sports athletes these blood tests could lead to a day when athletes are able to track the amount of EVs released into their brain after their fights. This would lead to a better assessment of the damage caused from a bout (or sparring session), especially when more noticeable symptoms of concussion and other TBIs are not present.