Even as doctors have learned more about brain trauma, the definition of a concussion remains frustratingly vague. The injury is diagnosed through a mishmash of symptoms, some of which may or not be present in any particular case. Bone breaks have X-rays and muscle tears have MRIs, but no form of medical imaging has yet been able to quickly and reliably confirm a concussion diagnosis. But a number of promising tests are in the medical pipeline.
Last month the U.S. Army, in partnership with the Alachua, Fla.–based company Banyan Biomarkers, announced a potential breakthrough in the development of a blood test for brain trauma. The test—which accurately diagnosed traumatic brain injury among 34 patients in a study conducted by Banyan and the Army—identifies substances that spill into the blood from injured brain tissue. For example, the proteins SBDP145 and SBDP120 appear to enter the blood as a result of damage to brain cells. “It’s going to change medicine entirely,” says Col. Dallas Hack, an Army doctor and the director of the Combat Casualty Care Research Program. The next step is a study of 1,200 patients that will take several years to complete.