American Football: NFL funded research creates test for traumatic brain injury

Scientists funded by the National Football League in the USA have developed technology which could be used to diagnose concussion pitch-side. 

American Football players Developed by a company called Quanterix, the technology uses a pin-prick blood test to spot tiny amounts of proteins found in cerebrospinal fluid, that cross the blood-brain barrier following brain injury.  Results can be provided within 20 minutes.  Kevin Hrusovsky, chief executive of Quanterix, explained to the Washington Post that the technology allows users to see proteins within a blood sample with such precision that he compared it to “being able to see a grain of sand in 2,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.”  Also talking to the Washington Post, Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president of health and safety policy praised medics employed on sidelines for being “very good at diagnostics,” but added that “it is subjective, there is no easy test that you can tell whether a player or an athlete, or a member of our military, or a civilian, has suffered a concussion.” As a result, he went onto explain, the League is always looking for “better ways to advance the science around diagnoses of concussion.” Especially as current testing often relies on athletes self-reporting their symptoms, which many are not keen to do.  The NFL has strong motivation to improve pitch-side diagnostics as they are currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars on settling a concussion lawsuit. The Quanterix technology is still a long way off implementation pitch-side, but it is being used by researchers. Scientists at Texas Christian University, who are studying the school's football team, used the technology to measure a blood biomarker called neurofilament light. They found that levels of neurofilament light in the blood increase when there is an impact to the head.  They have also been able to identify the point at which elevated levels of this biomarker indicate concussion.  Similarly scientists studying Swedish hockey players using the Quanterix technology have also found a link between raised levels of proteins, specifically one called tau, and brain injury. There is, however, one significant difference. Tau levels increase quickly within an hour after impact and return to normal levels quickly. Neurofilament light levels on the other hand, remain elevated for seven to 14 days. The researchers believe this technology could play an important role in informing decisions, such as when to remove a player from the field of play, especially if an individual is not displaying or reporting symptoms, how long they should rest and the potential severity of the injury. 
Share page
Print page
Follow us