UK researchers team up to study new concussion test for athletes

Dr. Robert Hosey

When an athlete takes a hard hit or fall, coaches, trainers and team physicians must determine whether the athlete has suffered a concussion.

Across all levels of sport, protocols are in place to assess whether an athlete has sustained a concussion and whether they can be cleared to return to the game. Answering these questions can be difficult, however, because a quick, definitive concussion diagnosis is not always possible.

That’s why over the next three years and with a nearly $1 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, researchers at UK are studying whether a rapid blood test could serve as another tool to diagnose concussions in athletes.

The research team at UK

Dr. Mark Lovell, the Jack and Linda Gill Professor of Chemistry at UK and faculty member in the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, is the principal investigator of the study and is working with researchers Dr. Melissa Bradley-Whitman and Dr. Bert Lynn.

The team developed a device that can test whether blood levels of a neuron-specific protein show a change if an athlete sustains a concussion. The test requires only a drop of blood and can provide results in 20 minutes. Other concussion blood tests being studied require more blood to be drawn and can take longer to show results.

Currently, concussion diagnosis is made through an evaluation by a clinician experienced in concussions. Evaluations take into account an athlete’s medical history as well as a physical exam, which includes a survey of symptoms and a neurocognitive exam.

For college and professional athletes, this testing is often done by a team physician or athletic trainer. But for younger athletes or athletes in programs that don’t have access to a clinician of this type, this evaluation may be done by a coach or later by a primary care provider. Because diagnosing a concussion requires clinical expertise, physicians from UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine are also part of the research team.

Dr. M. Kyle Smoot, a physician at UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine, serves as the medical principal investigator for the study. Smoot, along with Dr. Kim Kaiser and Dr. Robert Hosey, developed the clinical research design of the study and will use the device created by the Lovell lab to study student-athlete volunteers from various sports at UK and Eastern Kentucky University.

Taking research from the lab to the locker room

When Lovell and Smoot approached UK Athletics about participating in the project, the department quickly realized the study has the potential to change the way medicine is practiced in a way that benefits athletes.

“Sport-related concussion is a condition of great interest to the athletes and the athletics community nationally and internationally,” UK Athletics Director of Sports Medicine Jim Madaleno said. “UK Athletics welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the advancement of science in this area.”

Smoot said UK is the perfect place for such a study to occur.

“Housing an academic campus, medical center and athletics department on a single campus makes this kind of research possible,” he said. “This environment makes collaboration exciting as we are able to leverage our experience and expertise to easily bring great ideas and tools from the lab to the clinical setting. We are able to develop and build a device and perform the study all on one campus.”

Lovell agreed, saying, “You can build the ideal device, but if you can’t test it on the subjects it’s intended for, it’s not useful.”

Next steps:

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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