Data Science

After Concussion, What Can Blood Reveal About the Brain?

A blood test may help athletes gauge concussion recovery.

Produced by Christie Taylor.

A hard hit to the jaw in an NFL game last weekend had Miami Dolphins player Matt Moore unable to stand for several minutes. Yet, he was cleared to return to play almost immediately.

While Moore is reportedly suffering no concussion symptoms, the NFL say they are reviewing their concussion protocols to ensure that they adequately protect players.

Meanwhile, researchers are examining the potential for a possible new biomarker in diagnosing concussions and identifying their severity: the protein tau, which is also found in the brains of people with the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Jessica Gill, the director of the brain injury unit at the National Institute for Nursing Research, explains new research that finds that levels of tau in the blood after a concussion correlate with how long it takes an athlete to return to play—whether that’s the standard 10 days, or a much longer period of time that can be fraught with lingering side effects. If this correlation bears out, it may be possible to objectively identify which athletes need closer monitoring, independent of the pressures the athletes themselves may feel to get back in the game as fast as possible.

Meanwhile, as research into the causes of and risk factors for CTE advances, Boston University neuroscientist Robert Stern explains the growing body of evidence linking CTE, and other long-term problems, to hits too small to cause documented concussions.

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