11 November 2020

Concussion or not?

The results of a clinical study by the University of Pennsylvania College of Medicine confirmed that the patient's saliva can be used to diagnose traumatic brain injury in a non-invasive way.

The researchers analyzed saliva samples from more than 500 study participants for the presence of fragments of genetic material (microRNA). These molecules play an important role in cellular processes and are present in large numbers in the brain. The researchers suggested that due to the presence of cranial nerve branches in the oral cavity, a change in the microRNA level may indicate whether a patient has a traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic brain injury occurs as a result of physical head trauma and can cause headache, dizziness and confusion. Currently, doctors use various scales and neurocognitive tests to assess the severity of the damage. These methods can be unreliable because they do not exclude the subjectivity of the patient and the doctor. For example, athletes may underestimate the severity of symptoms in order to return to training sooner. Analysis of microRNA levels in saliva is a non–invasive alternative to assessing the severity of a traumatic brain injury, which cannot be influenced by the feelings and motives of the patient or doctor.


To test the new diagnostic approach, the researchers recruited 538 volunteers from 11 clinical centers. Approximately half of the participants had a traumatic brain injury within two weeks of the start of the study, while the other half of the participants had no injuries, but had conditions that could mimic them: anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, fatigue or chronic headache.

The researchers performed RNA sequencing to analyze saliva samples from half of the participants, and then used statistical modeling and machine learning to identify significant differences in microRNA levels in participants with and without traumatic brain injury. After determining which RNA changes to look for, the researchers tested the saliva of more than 200 more participants and were able to successfully determine which of them had a head injury. The accuracy of the method turned out to be higher than that of currently available tests, including an assessment of balance and reaction time.

A quick and reliable diagnosis of traumatic brain injury will allow you to take appropriate measures in time to relieve symptoms and reduce the consequences. The group will focus its further efforts on turning the test into a portable technology that can be used by sports coaches immediately after training or by paramedics directly at the scene of injury.

Article by S.D.Hiks et al. Diagnosing mild traumatic brain injury using saliva RNA compared to cognitive and balance testing is published in the journal Clinical and Translational Medicine.

Aminat Adzhieva, portal "Eternal Youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru based on materials from Penn State Health: Study confirms spit testing may help doctors diagnose concussions.

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