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Mainers Have New Test for Brain Injury: UCH-L1

The first step in treating a brain injury is to know that it occurred.Not every bump on the head is a brain injury. On the other hand, being able to say “I’m fine” and get back in the game, behind the wheel or up off the ground doesn’t mean you really are fine.

Now, just like the blood test that confirms a heart attack, there is a simple blood test that shows brain injury.In the days that follow a brain injury a biomarker called “UCH-L1” spikes in the blood.An article in the Wall Street Journal reported in July that the presence of UCH-L1 is considered a reliable marker of brain injury, but more research needs to be done.One issue is whether the marker is valid for both severe and mild brain trauma.According to USA Today, the US Army thinks it is, and is seeking FDA approval for the test. The Army’s goal: find brain injured soldiers who are “under the radar” and treat them appropriately.

Excitement about the test is understandable. Just think about all the different situations that leave Mainers wondering how seriously they are hurt: Maine soldiers concussed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, High School football players who “see stars” after a tough tackle, Sunday River or Sugarloaf skiers with and without helmets who fall hard, and even ordinary Mainers whiplashed by a careless driver who walk around in a fog for days or weeks.

Using UCH-L1 on the battlefield and in emergency rooms holds the promise of a rapid, inexpensive sifter to separate folks with a true brain injury from the “just a bump” crowd.

The test isn’t available in Maine emergency rooms today, but stay tuned.

Alison Wholey Briggs Mynick, RN, Esq.