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Can a blood test reveal a traumatic brain injury?

WASHINGTON -- Public relations people are sometimes laughably off target. Like how, for example, did I end up on the media list for the American College of Emergency Physicians? Normally those press releases have nothing at all to do with what I cover as a military reporter, but today their release had the magic words: “traumatic brain injury.”

A new study published today in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that patients with TBI had a significantly higher amount of an acidic protein in their blood than those without TBI.

The physicians organization was excited that this could reduce the number of CT scans done in emergency rooms, but it was the possibility of an indicator for TBI that caught my attention. The military is anxious for a simple test that can be done on the battlefield to determine whether a servicemember suffered a TBI in an explosion. It’s the most common injury in Afghanistan and often isn’t discovered until after the servicemember returns home.

The study’s authors believe that the test for the protein, done within four hours of injury, has the potential to show the severity of the head trauma. "We can perform blood tests now for heart attack, and hope to be able to do the same for traumatic brain injury,” Linda Papa, the lead author of the study, said in the news statement.

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