Blood test for head injuries, developed in Blacksburg, gains FDA approval

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) A new test, developed in Blacksburg at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) and Virginia Tech, can determine if someone suffered a concussion or head injury.

It's all through an FDA-approved blood test that researchers have been working on for 15 years. FDA approval came in Wednesday February 14.

As early as ten years ago, many in the medical field would have said a blood test on the brain is impossible. That's because the brain never comes into contact with blood.

Gunnar Brolinson is the Vice Provost for Research at VCOM and was the lead researcher on the test.

He explained, “More recently there's been technology that's been developed to start to measure the very small amounts of brain proteins that actually do cross the blood-brain barrier in the case of injury.”

So for years, Brolinson would do blood tests on Virginia Tech athletes and head trauma patients at Carilion New River Valley.

Those samples were sent to Banyan Biomarkers to be tested,

The data from this pilot project was pooled with data from other investigators and led to a large multi-national project to determine the clinical utility of a blood based brain biomarker panel.

Those tests found two markers that confirm a serious head injury, UCHL1 and GFAP.

VCOM said in a press release, “If patients are tested within 12 hours of a concussion, doctors may know if brain bleeding or a brain injury is present. A positive result would lead to a follow-up CT scan of the brain (or other diagnostic imaging such as an MRI scan) to confirm diagnosis and decide treatment. This test will prevent unnecessary scans from being performed saving time, money and decreasing patients’ exposure to radiation. Results are available in as little as 3 hours.”

This is especially useful in emergency rooms before sending patients for a CAT scan.

Brolinson explained, “If you have a blood test that you can do that's quick and easy and inexpensive and you don't have to get the CAT scan, Hallelujah! You've saved the medical care system quite a bit of money. Also a CAT Scan is a relatively high radiation test.”

Brolinson added there have definitely been patients who didn't get CAT Scans when they should have, who would now with this test.

But this test won't just be restricted to hospitals and emergency rooms. The plan is to get it out in the field, more specifically the football field.

Brolinson is one of the Virginia Tech football team doctors.

He said, “For me to be able to use this on the sideline, what I need is something about the size of an iPhone. I'd like to be able to do a finger stick test.”

He said companies are already working on that and thanks to the recent FDA approval, he expects it to be a reality by next year. That's because with approval more research can be funded.

“There will be a lot of development around the test, in terms of test kits that become much more quick to make the diagnosis, cheaper, more convenient,” Brolinson said.

Brolinson said the other field this test will be used is the battlefield. Soldiers who suffer from blast trauma and head trauma could be treated more quickly with this test.

Banyan Biomarkers is currently moving forward with the commercialization of the test and is teaming up with Abbott and bioMerieux SA to use those companies’ blood analyzing machines in hospitals.

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