There are more than one million emergency visits annually for traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the U.S.
The challenge for doctors is to identify which of these patients have an acute, traumatic intracranial injury, something that is not always evident, and which patients can be observed and sent home.
Brain damage is frequently preceded by or associated with abnormal blood-brain barrier (BBB) function.
Currently, the standard of care for patients with head trauma is a CT scan or MRI, which cost thousands of dollars and require expensive equipment and specially-trained doctors.
A team of Cleveland Clinic researchers, led by Damir Janigro, Ph.D., are developing a blood test that can help predict the seriousness of brain injury by detecting the status of the blood-brain barrier.
If a protein (S100B) present only in the brain appears in serum, then the BBB is breached and the patient should be further evaluated.
If measured within four hours of the injury, the S100B test accurately predicts which head injury patients will have a traumatic abnormality on a head CT scan.
It takes about 20 minutes to get the results and may spare patients from unnecessary radiation exposure, while costing a fraction of the price of a CT scan.
Currently, the team is doing an investigation on collegiate football players to determine if the test is useful for identifying if and when players are fit to return to the field.
This could open the door for a portable S100B testing device that could be used on the sidelines and in the trenches, in addition to every emergency room.