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Blood Test Could Make Identifying Concussion A Lot Easier

BOSTON (CBS) - Concussions. Parents, players, and coaches are becoming increasingly concerned about the risk they pose, but they can be difficult to diagnose. As Dr. Mallika Marshall reports, a local company has developed a blood test that could make identifying a concussion a lot easier.

"From that moment on my life changed forever," says Taylor Twellman thinking back to a fateful day in 2008 when he suffered a blow to the head that ended his career as a star soccer player with the New England Revolution.

"Post-concussion syndrome has been a huge part of my life and it's something I deal with to this day," says Twellman.

Taylor Twellman
Former New England Revolution player Taylor Twellman. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

According to the Centers for Disease Control, up to four million concussions occur each year. A big challenge is trying to figure out whether someone has actually had one or not. Lexington-based Quanterix may have a solution.

"It's like rocket science on the blood," says Quanterix CEO and Executive Chairman, Kevin Hrusovsky.

Instead of shooting for the stars, Quanterix is using the world's most sensitive machines to search for tiny amounts of protein that leak into the blood when the brain is injured. One protein is called Tau.

"We've had NHL players that have been concussed and one hour after the concussion they've taken blood tests and have been able to see Tau elevated with our technology," says Hrusovsky.

Which means with a prick of a finger, scientists may one day be able to decide within an hour, possibly within even minutes, whether someone has had a concussion, how severe it is, when the player can safely return to play, and whether another concussion could trigger permanent brain damage.

"My biggest concern," says Hrusovsky, "Are the 23 million soccer athletes that we have in the United States or all of the high school Pop Warner football players or even cheerleaders...or all of the emergency rooms with car accidents."

Quanterix envisions a day when pediatricians will order a routine panel of brain biomarkers as part of a child's annual physical. "Everyone is very concerned on whether their child is being exposed in athletics to something that could maybe hurt them longer-term," Hrusovsky explains.

Twellman says kids should still play sports but is in full support of a blood test that could help them to play more safely.

"Recognizing what a concussion is can be very difficult," says Twellman, "And if there is an immediate indicator and it's through the blood, I'm all in."

With a grant from the NFL and General Electric, Quanterix is will shrink the size of their machines and expand the panel of biomarkers. The hope is to, one day, be able to perform this blood test in the field.

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