New Sask. research offers glimmer of hope to those who have suffered a concussion

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have made some exciting new discoveries that could eventually lead to a possible treatment for those who have suffered a concussion.

U of Sask. researchers say their discoveries will help spot concussions, and may help treat them

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan say they've found proteins that are biological markers that could help detect a concussion. (Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan say they've made new discoveries that could help spot concussions or brain injuries — and may eventually lead to treatment.

Changiz Taghibiglou teaches neuroscience and neuropharmacology with the college of medicine at the U of S.

He says that usually, when a patient suffering from a concussion goes to the emergency room, it's very hard for a physician to make a diagnosis.

"There is no X-ray, there is no imaging that can help a physician with a patient with a concussion," he told Garth Materie on CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition.

That's why, for the past five years, Taghibiglou and his colleagues been looking at biomarkers for concussion and head injury. A biomarker — short for "biological marker" — refers to a broad category of measurable medical signs that can identify a physiological process, like disease or an injury.

The U of S researchers have discovered a pair of blood proteins that can help determine if a person has suffered a concussion or other brain injury.

And these proteins can be detected through a simple blood test, giving a biomarker that can detect a brain injury.

"This biomarker will help the physician to reach an accurate diagnosis — basically assist the physician to reach to the accurate diagnosis of the concussion," Taghibiglou said.

"We are hoping that soon we can use those biomarkers to detect the brain injury in the same way that we measure the blood sugar."

Magnetic stimulation tests

Taghibiglou also found that certain proteins, important to protect the brain from various neurological conditions, were restored to their normal level by low-frequency magnetic stimulation.

Taghibiglou worked with Dr. Yanbo Zhang, a professor of psychiatry in the college of medicine at the U of S and the co-author of a paper on the subject, published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

Zhang had found when a patient suffering from depression is sent for an MRI, their mood and symptoms improve.

The researchers realized since an MRI is a massive magnet, it could be positively affecting the patients.

A simple blood test may be used in the future to help diagnose brain injuries. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)

They tested this theory on mice and rats with head injuries by exposing the animals to a magnetic device.

Taghibiglou said the animals showed significant improvement, and were able to run on a wheel without falling off and perform other cognitive tests.

"After four … short treatments of 20 minutes, most of those deficiencies in cognition and motor function has been resolved and improved significantly," Taghibiglou said.

Health Canada has approved a study using a low-frequency magnetic device for patients with depression, he said.

That should pave the way for Taghibiglou to to use the same device to study concussions in people.

"If we can attract some research funding to our program, we will be able to launch the clinical study as soon as basically September or October," he said. "But it is pending receiving some research funding."

And Taghibiglou cautioned treatment for humans is still a long way off in the future.

"I can consider this a glimmer of hope that we will eventually have a solution for concussion."


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