Blood tests can help predict outcome of head injuries

·2 min read

Story at a glance

  • The two biomarkers assessed by the blood tests are already used to determine which patients need computed tomography scans following traumatic brain injuries.

  • Findings are based on a study of more than 1,600 patients.

  • Researchers hope the tests could be used one day to better triage patients in mass casualty situations.

A portable blood test developed by medical device company Abbott can help predict how someone will recover from a traumatic brain injury by testing a patient as soon as possible.

A study conducted on more than 1,600 patients revealed high values of certain protein biomarkers “have good to excellent prognostic value for predicting death and unfavorable outcome” among individuals who suffered a traumatic brain injury. Abbott says the research shows doctors testing for these brain proteins can get a better picture of how severe a head injury is and a timeline of recovery.

However, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1 (UCH-L1), the predictors tested, were unable to estimate incomplete recovery at six months.

Findings were published in The Lancet Neurology.

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Although GFAP and UCH-L1 are currently used to aid in determining whether patients should undergo computed tomography (CT) scans following a traumatic brain injury, little was known about their prognostic values for patient outcomes.

All individuals included in the study were at least 17 years old and had presented to U.S. trauma centers between 2014 and 2018. Upon evaluation, individuals received CT scans and had plasma samples taken within 24 hours. Individuals were followed up with after six months.

Of those with baseline and six-month data available, just over 7 percent died and around 14 percent had unfavorable outcomes based on the Glasgow Outcome Scale-Extended Interview, which evaluates disability and recovery following brain injuries.

Around 67 percent had an incomplete recovery at six months and 33 percent recovered fully.

Overall, GFAP levels could predict death at six months at a probability of 87 percent while UCH-L1 could do so at 89 percent. Both plasma samples predicted severe disability after six months at 86 percent.

“We believe this tool may encourage clinicians to be more aggressive in their decisions to begin or continue life-saving treatment,” said study author Geoffrey Manley of the University of California, San Francisco in a statement.

“Modern trauma care can result in good outcomes in what we had once believed were non-survivable injuries.”

If used in clinical practice, the tests could confirm any need for immediate surgical interventions or guide conversations with family members. They could also be beneficial in mass casualty situations where medical providers may need to triage patients.

The majority of patients included in the study were male with an average age of 39.

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