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Banner, TGen pairing to develop fluids test to diagnose concussions

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PHOENIX — Two Phoenix-area health research companies are pairing up to design a new blood, urine or saliva test to diagnose concussions in athletes.

High school, college and professional sports teams can all struggle at times to diagnose a concussion.

“Every head trauma is not a clinically-relevant concussion,” Dr. Steven Erickson, the medical director of the Banner Concussion Center, said.

He said there is an extensive clinical process to accurately diagnose a concussion and determine when the brain has fully recovered. However, that process takes time.

“CAT scan, MRI, or even high-resolution MRI is completely normal, so there’s no test that you can do to confirm that somebody has or doesn’t have a concussion,” he said.

But that could soon change.

“If there was a simple blood test that could tell you whether you should take this seriously or not, or whether a patient needs to see somebody like myself or not, that would probably help in the whole algorithm of initial evaluation and referral for presumed concussion,” Erickson said.

Erickson’s organization is teaming with the Translational Genomics Research Institute to create such a test.

“The hope is that, with this research, we can identify some sort of molecular marker that tracks the diagnosis and recovery of concussion, so that physicians who don’t have as much experience as myself in the ER, urgent care or primary care setting, could do a blood test that would help them decide whether or not a person has a concussion and when their concussion has recovered,” Erickson said.

A patient’s blood, urine, and saliva would be used in the test.

Erickson said researchers will be looking at 100 existing patients of the Banner Concussion Center. Those who meet specific study criteria will be asked if they’d like to take part in the research.

“The end goal is trying to identify a test that would be consistent with or not consistent with concussions,” he added. “Something that ER, urgent care and primary care doctors could do in that initial evaluation to try to determine whether somebody has a concussion and needs the next level of care or not.”

Such a test could also help determine whether the patient has recovered from that concussion and whether they will suffer any long-term effects.

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