Penn scientists identify possible key to gauging extent of concussion

     Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87), shown here in a Dec. 7 match against the Ottawa Senators, is the latest NHL player to come down with a case of the mumps. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

    Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87), shown here in a Dec. 7 match against the Ottawa Senators, is the latest NHL player to come down with a case of the mumps. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

    Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a protein that may be able to predict the severity of an athlete’s concussion.

    Professor of neurosurgery Bob Siman said the protein, called SNTF, can be detected in the blood after a hit to the head.

    “When nerve cells are damaged, this protein is produced in them, and then gets spilled out of them in a way that makes it detectable in the blood stream as a marker for brain damage,” he said.

    In a small study with professional hockey players in Sweden, the Penn team and their collaborators found that SNTF levels were higher in severely concussed players, or those who were benched six days or more to recover, in the hours and days following the trauma compared with uninjured players. Players with only light concussions did not see the same increase.

    “This is a marker that can identify that small subset of concussions that are actually suffering brain damage and are at risk of developing persistent brain functional problems,” said Siman.

    Being able to distinguish between those cases, he said, is important for finding concussion treatments as well as preventing further injury. The results were published this week in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

    More testing is needed, but because SNTF levels remain elevated throughout the symptomatic period, Siman said a simple blood test for the protein could be a way of helping doctors and coaches decide when players can safely return to play.

    The university is in talks with a biotech company to bring such a diagnostic test to market.

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