High-Tech Blood Test Close to Detecting Brain Injuries on Sidelines
By Ken Reed
Quanterix, a Massachusetts company, is close to bringing to market a highly sensitive, single molecule, blood test that can detect proteins in the blood that indicate a brain injury. The test can signal a concussion, or sub-concussive injury, which will let team personnel know that an effected player shouldn’t be allowed back into a game. Players who reenter a game with a recent brain injury are at risk for Second Impact Syndrome, a condition that can have tragic consequences, including death.
Quanterix’s platform is called Simoa. Simoa is the only technology in the country that has the sensitivity necessary to detect “tell-tale” proteins that leak into the blood after a blow to the head causing a brain injury. The blood test can measure those proteins and identify and quantify the brain injury that was sustained.
“Our technology is truly revolutionary as nobody thought that biomarkers associated with brain injury would be something you could find by conducting a simple blood test. However, we are able to not only detect these minute proteins but, for the first time, quantify the severity of the trauma,” says Kevin Hrusovsky, Quanterix’s CEO.
League of Fans’ Ken Reed recently interviewed Hrusovsky, about Simoa and its potential to keep athletes safer and even save lives.
Ken Reed: Have you had any conversations with the NFL or the NCAA about investments to accelerate the development of this technology?
Kevin Hrusovsky: The NFL has been incredibly proactive in recognizing our technology, awarding us twice through the GE and the NFL’s Head Health Challenge I for our work in advancing the detection and management of brain injuries. We won the first phase of the award in January of 2014 and used that money to continue our work identifying useful biomarkers to better predict the long-term prognosis of individuals who have undergone acute and repetitive brain injuries. In July of 2015, we were named a final winner of the challenge and are using this money to continue innovating our technology, shrinking the size, and developing a low-cost point-of-care testing device that can more easily be used on sidelines and locker rooms.
Reed: What’s the size of the technology now and what’s the goal in terms of getting it on the sidelines?
Hrusovsky: Right now, the technology is about the size of a large refrigerator. We are working aggressively with engineers to shrink the size of the machine so that it can more easily be administered on sidelines, in locker rooms, and even in doctors’ offices. Ultimately, a point-of-care device is the goal. This simple, low-cost device would be able to run a multiplex panel of key biomarkers to better detect and accurately diagnose neurological injuries. With this device, physical trainers and other medical professionals would be more easily able to administer the test in locker rooms and on sidelines. We hope to have this available within a few years. However, for right now, being able to send tests to labs as a first step is a vast improvement and beneficial to a player’s overall health.
Reed: One of the big concerns today is multiple sub-concussive blows to the head. Does this test address that issue and if so, how?
Hrusovsky: One of my goals is that in the near future this test might be administered in doctors’ offices around the world as part of a child’s yearly physical. This will enable us to get an accurate baseline biomarker read so that if it is suspected that a person has been hit, or has sustained any sort of injury to the brain, it will be easy to determine definitively if an injury did in fact occur and how severe it was. This is especially critical for addressing sub-concussive injuries which can lead to Second Impact Syndrome, because often players who sustain a sub-concussive blow do not present any symptoms. We’ve seen the repercussions of this in the past year, with several high school players passing away because of head-related injuries that were sustained during a sports game. If we are able to take a baseline read before a player gets on the field, we will be able to measure even the smallest hit, whether is it asymptomatic or not, and potentially save lives.
Reed: Do you see that as the biggest benefit from this breakthrough technology?
Yes. Simoa can help prevent players who have suffered an initial hit from returning to the field where they are at risk of getting hit again. This is especially critical to high school sports around the country.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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