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HealthWatch: NFL Hall-Of-Famer Taking Part In Study Using Saliva To Help Spot Concussions

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A faster and more accurate, albeit a bit odd, way to diagnose concussions may be in the works.

It tests a person's saliva to tell if they've been concussed, something for which there's currently no objective way to diagnose. It's based mostly on symptoms such as headaches, confusion, dizziness, and fatigue. Even a loss of consciousness isn't diagnostic because you can have a concussion without being knocked out.

Turns out, saliva could provide the test doctors and patients alike have been looking for.

From pee wee football, to soccer, to even cheerleading, concussions have become the injuries parents, players, and coaches are most worried about. Where concussions and their aftermath have really taken center stage is in football.

"I said, 'I never had a concussion.' And I said, 'Doctor, do you think I'm crazy? What is a concussion?' And they said 'When you see stars, you hear ringing.' I go, 'Oh God.' Daily. Lots of times," NFL Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure said.

The former NFL offensive lineman took literally thousands of blows to the head over his 12-year career. Each one of those blows may have taken a toll.

"I didn't know I had a short temper. I got six kids, 'Dad, do you fly off the hook? You fly off the handle all the time.'," DeLamielleure said.

That damage is why he's volunteered to be part of a series of studies on using saliva to diagnose concussions. A simple mouth swab undergoes a sophisticated lab analysis to look for certain genetic molecules called micro-RNAs that are released when the brain sustains a concussion.

"We've had great success in being able to identify the injury within the first 10 minutes of the blow to the head or the blow to the body that resulted in the injury," CEO of Quadrant Biosciences Richard Uhlig said. "If we're able to identify very quickly if somebody has experienced a concussion injury then it's no longer guesswork as to whether they should come out of the game."

Studies on micro-RNAs in scientific journals have shown the saliva test to be almost 90 percent accurate in identifying concussions in adolescents. DeLamielleure hopes he can also contribute to keeping brains healthy in the future.

"I was one of the first guys who turned my brain over to science and they were talking to her and, uh, she said, 'You're going to love this brain. It's never been used.'," he said.

Quadrant Biosciences is teaming up with the NFL Hall of Fame Players Foundation to refine the test. The hope is to not just diagnose early, but to track the effectiveness of any treatments for football-induced brain damage such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE.

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