A blood test to uncover concussion

A blood test to uncover concussion


Anyone can get a concussion. You don’t have to play for UCSF football. Every year over a million Americans go to the ER for just falling and hitting their head. And even one concussion can cause
long-term problems. Imagine BAM you just hit your head. At the ER you’re asked a set of questions: What’s your name? Where do you think we are? Can you tell me today’s
date? Right now a questionnaire is our best diagnostic for concussion. A CAT scan of your brain is not sensitive enough. So you’re often sent home, unsure
if you had a brain injury. What if we did have a sensitive test? BAM you just hit your head! At the ER you take a blood test and it tells you, “Do you need medical care or can you just go home?” 20 years ago a simple blood test
revolutionized how we catch heart attacks. A unique molecule from your heart, troponin, was caught leaking into the blood after a heart attack. If that showed up on a blood test doctors know, “Hey this is serious!” When you hit your head your brain also leaks molecules into the blood. And if that showed up on a blood test I think doctors would know, “Hey, this is serious.” Sounds good, right? Why haven’t we done this? Well for heart attack it took decades of
guesswork just to find troponin. I got to graduate, so I devised a systematic two-part strategy to find the troponin of concussion. Secret weapon one: instead of looking for the usual suspects we went unbiased. We came up with the way to profile thousands of molecules at once and we looked in the blood of a hundred
people who just had a concussion, 100 people who didn’t. Secret weapon two: under your skull, your brain is not naked. It has a soft covering, the meninges, that often gets overlooked because it seems really boring. We think it’s the perfect sensor
for mechanical head injury. It’s thin, delicate. And while the brain is sealed from the blood by a barrier, the meninges is outside the barrier! If injured it could leap right into circulation. So we analyzed the human meninges for the first time at high resolution. We charted a map of all the molecules made in the special covering. This uncovered new molecules found nowhere else in the body. And here’s what surprises me the most… this actually worked! Those new molecules from the meninges, we caught them spilling into the blood after a concussion. Even if your CAT scan couldn’t catch it, our molecules were there telling us “Hey, this is serious.” Look, we still have a lot of work to do. But we hope this brought us one step closer to the blood test we sorely need. Something everyone can take if they hit
their head. No one should fall through the cracks because anyone can get a concussion. Thank you

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