Concussions Part II: Tools for Diagnosis

In a recent post, we looked at the current state of the concussion crisis taking place in the U.S., and some of the difficulties with diagnosis that have been exacerbating the problem. With no easy way to diagnosis concussions, 5 in 6 concussions go unrecognized, leading to delays in recovery and harmful effects we are only just beginning to recognize.

At the Forsyth Institute, we’re looking into new methods for diagnosing concussions. The secret might very well be in our saliva, which would offer, for the first time, a way to quickly and accurately provide a definitive concussion diagnosis.

Secrets in our Saliva

Saliva contains virtually all of the same medical diagnostic information as blood, including DNA, proteins, hormones, metabolites, and inflammatory and immune molecules. Already, the Forsyth institute is studying saliva as a tool to diagnose pre-diabetes/metabolic syndrome, oral cancer, active tuberculosis, Lyme disease, and progressive gum disease (periodontitis) to name just a few. The Forsyth Center for Salivary Diagnostics is now leading efforts to develop a new generation of point-of-care saliva-based tests. In the case of a concussion, our spit may able be able to tell us things that blood cannot and can be used in scenarios where a blood draw wouldn’t be feasible. We’re investigating the increase in certain proteins and hormones in saliva following head trauma, and evaluating how these levels may vary over the course of a football season.

There are numerous benefits to diagnosing concussion using a salivary test. Most importantly, it could offer a more objective diagnosis compared to cognitive testing, and provide an accurate gauge of when it is safe for a player to resume activity. Salivary tests have other advantages as well:

  • The test could be administered on the sideline of a game by a person with minimal medical training, as well as in a doctor’s office.
  • A positive test would indicate a mild traumatic brain injury, and its definitive diagnosis would keep the player from returning to action, and they could begin a treatment program.
  • Unlike cognitive tests, which can be manipulated, a diagnostic test would be impossible for a player to alter.

The medical community is still working towards a greater understanding of the short and long-term effects of concussion and the importance of proper diagnosis and immediate treatment. Supporting that work with an effective, simple and safe saliva test that could detect concussions immediately would make major strides toward controlling this serious public health challenge.

The full blog post was published on Huffington Post, and you can read it here: Taking Concussions Head-On: Part II.

Learn more about the Forsyth Institute’s Salivary Diagnostic team.

By Phil Stashenko, Senior Member of Staff and President Emeritus

Monday, May 30, 2016
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