Back in February, the US Food and Drug Administration announced a new blood test that could be used to check patients for concussions. Now, Swiss scientists have developed a handheld device that can be used by laypeople to perform a similar test within minutes, on the spot.

Ordinarily, in order to see if someone has received a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a CT scan has to be performed. Not only do patients often have to wait some time before this can be done, but the procedure also exposes their brain to potentially-harmful radiation. Ultimately, in approximately 90 percent of cases of suspected mild TBI, it turns out that no brain injury occurred.

Seeking an alternative, researchers from the University of Geneva worked with Spanish colleagues to analyze blood samples drawn from patients admitted to hospitals for possible mild traumatic brain injury. Some of those people turned out to be OK, while others were actually diagnosed with brain lesions.

When the samples from the two groups were compared, it was found that the damaged brain cells of the latter group released four telltale proteins into the bloodstream. Higher-than-normal levels of one of these chemicals, H-FABP, turned out to be a particularly reliable indicator of brain injury.

Known as TBIcheck, the new device analyzes a single drop of a patient's blood, determining within 10 minutes if that person's H-FABP levels exceed a concentration of 2.5 nanograms per milliliter. If they do, then the patient needs to go to a hospital and receive a CT scan – otherwise they can just go home.

Should the reading be ambiguous, then a second device called the Cube Reader can be attached to the TBIcheck. It will simply display the word "positive" or "negative," plus it can transmit the information to an app on a paired smartphone via Bluetooth.

Plans call for commercialization of the technology to begin early next year, via startup company ABCDx. Ultimately, it could find use in locations such as the sidelines of football games.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal PLOS One.

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