Breakthrough research discovers biomarker for concussion

22 Dec 2016

Doctor checking sportsperson. Image: Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock

Incorrect diagnoses of concussion could soon be a thing of the past, as researchers have, for the first time, discovered a biomarker in the brain that can quickly identify if someone has experienced one.

Research into the long-term effects of concussion are only now being analysed, following decades of insufficient knowledge on the condition that has affected a number of prominent sports stars.

As a result, our scientific understanding of the condition has remained quite low, despite breakthroughs being made by teams that have found methods of identifying when concussion is present in a patient faster than ever before.

90pc success rate

The latest effort has culminated in scientific research conducted by Northwestern University (NU) in the US that has, for the first time, identified a biomarker that could drastically reduce the time it takes to diagnose concussion.

Publishing its findings in Scientific Reports, the research team found that this biomarker can be discovered by a quick analysis of the patient’s auditory system of the brain, used to process sound.

During a series of tests, the subjects – which in this case were children – had three sensors placed on their heads to measure the brain’s electrical reaction to sound.

Incredibly, this simple reading of the auditory system could correctly identify 90pc of children with concussion, and 95pc of the children without.

On average, children who had sustained a blow to the head severe enough to cause concussion had a 35pc smaller neural response to pitch, allowing the team to devise a reliable indicator.

Taking the guesswork out of diagnosis

Once the child’s brain had recovered, their ability to register pitch was found to have returned to normal.

“This biomarker could take the guesswork out of concussion diagnosis and management,” said lead author Nina Kraus of NU’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

“Our hope is this discovery will enable clinicians, parents and coaches to better manage athlete health, because playing sports is one of the best things you can do.”

Adding to this, Kraus was surprised at the specificity of the team’s findings.

“This isn’t a global disruption to sound processing,” she said. “It’s more like turning down a single knob on a mixing board.”

Kraus and her team have said the next step is to produce a reliable and portable platform to diagnose concussion in real-world cases.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic