PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – By now, we’ve all heard just how dangerous concussions can be.
An increase in awareness has led to better reporting and treatment.
Now, an even greater tool at diagnosing concussions is in the works thanks to Dr. Bennett Omalu.
While working here in Pittsburgh more than a decade ago, Omalu was the first to identify the brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, in football players.
CTE had been found in boxers and other professional athletes, but it was Omalu’s autopsy of former Steelers player Mike Webster in 2002 that first connected CTE to NFL players.
And, it was Omalu’s work that inspired the 2015 movie “Concussion.”
Dr. Omalu is now the Chief Medical Examiner in San Joaquin County, California.
He and his team are working on a new tool that they think can change the way concussions are diagnosed.
Right now, Omalu says coaches and players are making decisions based on self-reporting of symptoms, which is subjective.
He believes having something objective, like an immediate blood test on the sidelines, can make safety decisions with much more information and certainty.
“Who says we cannot change? And do things more intelligently because of the truth of faith and the truth of science,” says Dr. Omalu.
By simply pricking the finger of an athlete, their prototype looks for elevated levels of certain proteins that are only found in the brain.
Within 15 minutes, the results allow a doctor to determine if the athlete has suffered a concussion.
“When you have an organic objective, a record, to an insult to the brain it doesn’t allow us to ignore it,” says Dr. Ronald Hayes, the founder of Banyan Laboratories.
Doctors say clinical trials with the prototype could begin sometime in the next year.
They hope it’s a new opportunity to see brain dysfunction in a simple, rapid and objective way that could shape the future of medical practices and player safety.