Acquired brain injuries impact approximately 1.5 million Canadians, and these numbers continue to rise each year.  Acquired brain injuries refer to damage to the brain occurring after birth and not related to a congenital or degenerative disease. 

According to research recently published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, a new blood protein test could detect the severity of head trauma in under 15 minutes helping physicians to diagnose and treat brain injuries more quickly.


Falls and motor vehicle accidents are two of the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries (“TBI”) in Canada.  A violent bump, blow or jolt to the head causes the brain to move and hit the inside of the skull, which is covered in bony ridges.  This impact can cause bruising or bleeding in the brain.  The effects to the brain may begin immediately or increase over time.  Head injuries can range in severity and have the potential to permanently affect the accident victim’s entire life. 

Each individual who suffers from a TBI will experience a unique combination of both physical, cognitive and emotional challenges that may include the following:

  • Fatigue, sleep difficulties and change in sleep patterns;
  • Difficulty walking, sitting, bathing and performing household tasks;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Chronic pain and headaches;
  • Changes in vision;
  • Seizures, infections, damaged blood vessels in the brain or vertigo;
  • Ringing in the ears, hand-eye coordination difficulties, unpleasant tastes or smells, tingling, itching;
  • Difficulty with balance or dizziness;
  • Difficulty understanding information, making plans, organizing or beginning tasks;
  • Difficulty communicating, word finding or making conversation;
  • Difficulty writing;
  • Difficulty with concentrating or becoming easily distracted;
  • Difficulty with memory, learning, reasoning and judgment;
  • Difficulty making decisions;
  • Confusion regarding date, location or time of day;
  • Loss or changes to senses and perceptions such as smell, taste, vision, hearing;
  • Irritability, depression, anger, anxiety;
  • Impulsive behaviour or lack of a filter; and
  • Isolation or difficulty with relationships.


Typically emergency personnel and health professionals will focus on the most obvious physical injuries following an accident, such as broken bones or internal bleeding.  Sometimes brain injuries can be overlooked unless there is a brain bleed visible on a CT scan of the brain.  However, microscopic level changes to the brain may not be visible on a scan. 

The standard diagnostic protocol to screen for TBIs involves a physical examination, a series of screening questions for neurological symptoms and normally a computed tomography (“CT”) scan.  However, almost 30% of those with a normal CT scan showed signs of TBI when a follow-up MRI scan was administered.  MRI scans are expensive, slower to produce reports and not always available.  Unfortunately, a missed diagnosis or delayed diagnosis can have significant consequences for victims of TBIs.


A new study has found that TBIs could be detected quickly with a blood protein test in under 15 minutes.  The study found that patients whose concussions were not detected on CT, but were found on MRI, had an elevated level of the glial fibrillary acidic protein (“GFAP”).  Therefore, an elevated GFAP can be used as a biomarker to help physicians detect and diagnose TBIs more quickly.

The study, which began four years ago, was led by Dr. David Okonkwo, director of the Neurotrauma Clinical Trials Center at UPMC and professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.  The study included 1,497 individuals from 18 trauma centres across the United States. 

The research team showed that GFAP can correctly determine the severity of a brain injury through a blood test.  GFAP is a protein released in the bloodstream in response to specific injuries, including brain injuries.  The researchers intend for the rapid test to be included in a hand-held devise with a cartridge that would measure GFAP in a patient’s blood to determine the severity of the brain injury.

According to Dr. Okonkwo:

This would eliminate guesswork in diagnosing TBIs and learn whether a person needs further treatment.  Whether you’re testing a soldier injured in combat or testing a patient in a small rural hospital with limited resources, health care providers could have critical information they need  – in minutes – to treat each patient’s brain injury.

The study used the i-STAT Alinity device manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, which is not yet commercially available.  If the device operates as it is anticipated to and is approved by the FDA, the new test could result in earlier diagnosis and treatment for those suffering from TBIs. 

If you or a loved one have suffered a traumatic brain injury as the result of the negligence of another person, the injured victim may be entitled to compensation for the injury and the resulting disability.  Please contact the experienced and award winning lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP today.  It is important that you contact us promptly so we can help you understand your rights and the potential to recover compensation for your injuries.  Contact our office online or at 403-571-0555 for a free initial consultation.