Mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs – the hot new word for concussions) often transition from minor/temporary injuries to major/long-term problems when multiple head traumas occur before the brain fully recovers. The current methods for diagnosis are suboptimal: psychological tests are inconsistent and brain scans are slow, expensive, and often unavailable. Finding a ‘concussion biomarker’ – a protein whose levels quickly rise in the blood following a mTBI – has been called the ‘holy grail’ for diagnosis.
Over the past year, a team of researchers from Sweden have embarked on a quest to find the ultimate biomarker in the blood of recently concussed Swedish hockey players (if you follow hockey, you may derive some pleasure that one of the authors is Henrik Zetterberg – but he’s this one, not that one). In two nearly identical studies – one published last March and another last week – Zetterberg and company identified two promising mTBI biomarkers: T-tau and SNTF. Both proteins are produced by damaged brain-cells, and most importantly, detection of their elevation in the blood accurately diagnosed mTBI and moderately predicted the severity of post-concussive symptoms!
So did these scientists just find the holy grail not once, but twice?! Well, here’s the thing: in order to actually detect the small changes in SNTF or T-tau blood levels (which are only ~ 2-fold), laborious and expensive methods were required that took ~24 hours to perform. Their reports on SNTF and T-tau are certainly promising, but it remains to be seen whether technology can be developed to detect such small changes in blood protein levels quickly and cheaply enough to become a viable form of diagnosis. To switch Arthurian metaphors, they may have found Arthur, but he’s still too young to lift the sword out of the stone.
By SITN Waves editor Shay Neufeld