Beth McQuiston, MD, RD, neurologist, and medical director at Abbott, shared her initial reaction to the FDA approval of the blood test for traumatic brain injury and a campaign to bring awareness to concussions.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an injury to the brain or skull caused by an external force, such as a strike or impact, and are often permanent and disabling. The risk of sustaining a TBI has been shown to be greatest in young children, young adults and the elderly. After an injury, a patient might concentrate on cognitive, emotional, and behavioral rehabilitation, as well as compensatory techniques to aid with reintegration and independent living.1
As result of TBI, 166 people in the United States lose their lives every day and every year, there are more than 2.5 million patients with brain injuries. Additionally, more than 5.3 million people in the US—1 in every 60 people—have a permanent disability that was brought on by a brain injury.1 As March is TBI awareness month, there are several social campaigns, including the Concussion Awareness Now campaign, that were launched to promote awareness on the condition.2
Recently, there was major progress in the field as the FDA cleared Abbott’s Alinity i laboratory TBI blood test, the first commercially available test of its kind.3 The test, available in hospitals, will be used to quickly assist clinicians in assessing patients with mild TBIs, known as concussions, in an objective way and help develop the next steps of care for patients. Beth McQuiston, MD, RD, neurologist and medical director at Abbott, sat down recently in an interview with NeurologyLive® to share her reaction to the approval and more about the Concussion Awareness Now campaign.
NeurologyLive®: What was your immediate reaction to the approval and how does this impact the evaluation of concussions?
Beth McQuiston, MD, RD: Absolute joy! I was absolutely thrilled and excited. What an important, momentous occasion, this is and how we’re going to be able to help so many people. It's an indescribable feeling to have something so important, to be cleared, and available to help the world. Also, to help patients live their best, healthiest life. It’s an incredible feeling.
Previously, when somebody would come into the emergency department, we have had blood tests for the heart, the liver, and the kidneys. We've never had one for the brain, on a Core Lab platform until now, and that is huge. Being able to have critical information at your fingertips within 15 to 18 minutes is incredible. What we're doing here is making the invisible, visible, and we're providing a window into the brain. There are many fantastic things about these assays, but the one thing I wanted to highlight is we're measuring these down to the picogram level. One picogram is the weight of DNA in one hummingbird cell.
We're measuring these brain proteins down to a very low level, which is extremely important because you can't see what you don't know. Being able to have information that is objective and rapid, is an absolute game changer. To add to that, I'd say that this is a pivotal moment for anybody who wonders if they may have had a concussion. Concussions are an invisible injury, you can't always see it on a head CT. This new blood test is going to offer a window into the brain. We are now beginning the future of how concussions are evaluated. All of those things make this a very important moment.
Is there something that physicians should keep in mind when giving the test to patients?
I think with any blood test you should look at it in context with all of the clinical information. Our test right now rules out the need for a head CT. More people will be able to go home with peace of mind if they have a negative test and they won't have to get unnecessary CT scans. This test offers an objective measurement to help assess concussion and rules out the need for a CT scan, thereby reducing the number of unnecessary CT scans by up to 40%. To put that in plain language, that potentially saves about 40 out of 100 people time and money.
I would say that the Alinity i clearance will bring concussion blood testing to many hospitals and labs across the United States. That's access and accessibility is very important. Also, this lab test complements our existing iSTAT Alinity rapid portable test.
As March is TBI Awareness Month, do you have any awareness campaigns being launched?
We just launched our Concussion Awareness Now campaign, a campaign that we're leading with the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) and 20 other organizations. Part of that campaign is dispelling the common myths of concussions and raising awareness of concussion. In doing background with this organization, we found that at least half of people don't get checked out when they have a concussion. There was another survey that we did with 1000 adults across the United States, and we found that 8 out of every 10 people couldn't recognize most common signs and symptoms of concussion. For more information, we do have a website, it's concussionawarenessnow.org.
This organization is going to be dispelling the common everyday myths of concussion. One of the myths out there is that only male athletes get concussion. Well, the vast majority of concussions happen to nonathletes. In contact sports, women have a higher rate of concussion than their male counterparts, that's myth number 1. Number 2, people think that they have to lose consciousness to have a concussion. That's not true either. For most people, they will not lose consciousness if they have a concussion. A third myth is if the head CT is normal, that means they didn't have a concussion. That's not true, either. On the vast majority of CT scans, if someone has a concussion, it will be negative. Similar to my first point, some people think its all about men. When we look at brain injury for women, we see that in certain areas, women have higher rates of concussion than their male counterparts, and can have more post concussive syndrome symptoms.
All of those things are extremely important. When you look at the landscape, you see that people twist their ankle, they take better care of their ankle frequently than they would if they injured their brain. I would argue that as a neurologist, your brain is vastly more important than your ankle. When in doubt, check it out.
Transcript edited for clarity.