Spit Test May Reveal The Severity Of A Child’s Concussion

“A saliva test allowed scientists to accurately predict how long concussion symptoms would last in children. A little spit may help predict whether a child’s concussion symptoms will subside in days or persist for weeks. A test that measures fragments of genetic material in saliva was nearly 90 percent accurate in identifying children and adolescents whose symptoms persisted for at least a month, a Penn State team told the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco, Calif. In contrast, a concussion survey commonly used by doctors was right less than 70 percent of the time. If the experimental test pans out, “a pediatrician could collect saliva with a swab, send it off to the lab and then be able to call the family the next day,” says Steven Hicks, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Penn State Hershey. Hicks helped develop the test and consults for a company that hopes to market concussion tests. A reliable test would help overcome a major obstacle in assessing and treating concussions, which affect more than one million children and adolescents in the U.S. each year. Many of the injuries are related to sports. In most cases, concussion symptoms last only a few days. But up to 25 percent of young patients “go on to have these prolonged headaches, fatigue, nausea, and those symptoms can last sometimes one to four months,” Hicks says. And, right now, there’s no way to know which kids are going to have long-term problems, he says. “Parents often say that their biggest concern is, ‘When is my child going to be back to normal again?’ ” Hicks says. “And that’s something we have a very difficult time predicting.” Hicks and a team of researchers have been looking for an objective test that might help. They knew that, after a concussion, injured brain cells try to heal themselves. As a part of this process, brain cells release tiny fragments of genetic material called microRNAs. Some of these fragments eventually turn up in blood and even in saliva. The team did an experiment that involved 50 concussion patients between the ages of 7 and 18. “When they came to our medical center and received the diagnosis of concussion, we evaluated them with some standard survey-based tools and then we also got a sample of their saliva,” Hicks says. Most samples were collected about a week after the injury. The team measured levels of many different microRNAs in the samples, and eventually they identified a handful that let them predict how long symptoms would last. They also identified one microRNA that predicted which children would have a specific concussion symptom: difficulties with memory and problem solving, Hicks says. A saliva test could greatly improve care for young people who don’t have obvious symptoms of a concussion, says Manish Bhomia, an adjunct assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. “A lot of children get mild concussion and oftentimes it goes ignored,” he says. A reliable lab test would help ensure that children who have a head injury don’t go back to school, or to the soccer field, before their brain has healed, Bhomia says. And microRNAs offer a promising way to assess concussions in adults as well as children, says Bhomia, whose research involves a range of “biomarkers” for traumatic brain injury. But saliva may not be the best place to measure microRNAs, Bhomia says. A better option, he says, might be blood samples, which tend to contain greater numbers of the genetic fragments.”

About John Fagan

John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981. John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder. In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home. John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation. Professional Activities John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates. Service to the Community John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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