Answer to Diagnosing Traumatic Brain Injury May Be in Our Mouths

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By Christopher Leet, MD, FACC Emeritus

489192483With the warmer months comes increased physical activity and participation in sports. Unfortunately, concussion is a concern many parents may have when their young athletes head onto the game field.

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury (TBI), caused from a blow or jolt to the head or body or another injury that causes the brain to shake or jar inside the skull. Concussions include several possible symptoms, ranging from dizziness, headache, blurred vision and nausea to disrupted sleep patterns, slurred speech and difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly and remembering new information.

While most people have a fast and full recovery from a concussion, for some, symptoms can last for days, weeks or longer. It is not always immediately obvious, too, that the brain has suffered a concussion or how bad the extent of the injury is.

Researchers at George Mason University (GMU) in Manassas seek to provide those answers. Early research there indicates that an enzyme is released when the brain’s been injured and that it is possible to detect this in saliva.This implies that a simple dipstick test, similar to glucose strips, could indicate whether there is significant brain injury and if further testing is needed.

“We’re not there yet, but we believe … that we have the potential to do this. … Right now in the field of concussion assessment … there is no quantifiable test for concussion that is clinically available,” said Dr. Shane Caswell, associate professor of athletic training education and executive director of GMU’s Sports Medicine Assessment Research and Testing (SMART) Laboratory. He is leading the research, along with research partner Dr. Emanuel “Chip” Petricoin, co-director of the university’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine.

Caswell said that the two have created one of the largest, if not the largest, bio banks in the country of saliva from concussed patients. “We’ve tracked them throughout their recovery, and we compare the findings in their saliva to what they had before they were injured,” he said. So far the research is promising, although “we have nothing to hang our hats on yet,” he said.

Manassas resident Dr. Christopher Leet, now retired, practiced medicine for nearly 40 years, specializing in cardiology and internal medicine.

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