People who have suffered from concussion may soon be able to take a simple blood test to determine if they are safe to return to work or play.

A team of researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital have found that underlying brain damage following concussion can last for at least a month, even though symptoms typically disappear within days of a mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI). And this could be leaving patients at increased risk of more severe brain damage.

Dr Sandy Schultz, a senior researcher on the team, explained to the Herald Sun what this means;

“There is now emerging evidence that repetitive mild Traumatic Brain Injury can have persisting effects; from the mild effects on memory, language and cognition, through to the chronic traumatic encephalopathy reported in former American footballers.

There is a theory this may be due to the repeated injury occurring while the brain is still in a period of increased vulnerability after the first mTBI. If that’s the case it becomes very important not just to diagnose the initial injury, but also to determine who has recovered and is no longer in that period of increased vulnerability.”

The team are now looking at developing a test to measure brain damage independent of concussion symptoms and at trialing the drug sodium selenate, which has been shown to reduce brain damage in animals after repeated concussion.

They are using long-term studies of Melbourne amateur football players to identify a biomarker — such as blood or saliva — that could be tested to tell if brain damage still exists, despite no apparent concussion symptoms.

They have recruited 40 players from the Melbourne University Blacks Football Club, taking blood samples, brain scans and neuropsychological assessments before the season starts.

The eight men who have so far had concussions over the past two seasons repeat these tests at 48 hours, one week, two weeks and one year after injury. They expect to publish their findings at the end of next football season.