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NINR Research: Biomarker May Help Predict Recovery Time for Sports Concussions

January 18, 2017

Research conducted at NINR has shown that the blood protein tau could be an important new clinical biomarker to better identify athletes who need more recovery time before safely returning to play after a sports-related concussion.

The study, led by Dr. Jessica Gill, NIH Lasker Clinical Research Scholar and Chief of the NINR Division of Intramural Research’s Brain Injury Unit, was published online in the journal Neurology.

Despite the millions of sports-related concussions that occur annually in the United States, there is currently no reliable blood-based test to predict recovery and an athlete’s readiness to return to play. The new study shows that measuring tau levels could potentially be an unbiased tool to help prevent athletes from returning to action too soon and risking further neurological injury.

“Keeping athletes safer from long-term consequences of concussions is important to players, coaches, parents, and fans. In the future, this research may help to develop a reliable and fast clinical lab test that can identify athletes at higher risk for chronic post-concussion symptoms,” said NINR Director Dr. Patricia A. Grady.

In the study, researchers evaluated changes in tau following a sports-related concussion in both male and female collegiate athletes to determine if higher levels of tau relate to longer recovery durations.

Concussed athletes who needed a longer amount of recovery time before returning to play (more than 10 days post-concussion) had higher tau concentrations overall at six, 24, and 72-hours post-concussion compared to athletes who were able to return to play in 10 days or less. Together, these findings indicate that changes in tau measured in as short a time as within six hours of a sports-related concussion may provide objective clinical information to better inform athletes, trainers, and team physicians’ decision-making about predicted recovery times and safe return to play.

“Incorporating objective biomarkers like tau into return-to-play decisions could ultimately reduce the neurological risks related to multiple concussions in athletes,” said Dr. Gill.

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