Conference Coverage

A new biomarker of traumatic brain injury?


From AAN 2021

Point-of-care test?

Commenting on the findings, Kristine O’Phelan, MD, professor of clinical neurology and director of neurocritical care in the department of neurology at the University of Miami, said von Willebrand factor’s likely utility would be as a marker of injury in patients with mild TBI or sports-related concussion.

Imaging and clinical exams do not always reveal these injuries, Dr. O’Phelan added. “Having a biomarker that you can easily test in the blood would be extremely helpful,” she said.

The most exciting part of this study is that it indicates the potential to develop a point-of-care test for use on the athletic field or the battlefield for early detection of mild TBI, she added.

The fact that the test for von Willebrand factor has already been developed is an advantage, said Dr. O’Phelan. The normal and abnormal values of the test are clearly understood. “I do think that they will still need to calibrate it for head injury, because that’s not usually what the test is used for,” said Dr. O’Phelan.

One of the study’s strengths is that the investigators compared patients with TBI with control persons who had exercised, she added, because such a comparison helps clarify the biomarker’s relationship to the injury. Another strength is the application of the test to injuries of various types and of different degrees of severity.

But the biomarker will need to be tested in a larger population, said Dr. O’Phelan. In addition, there is a need to identify the right patient population for this test, as well as the best time frame for its application and potential factors that could confound the test results.

“I do worry a little bit about using early biomarkers for prognosis, particularly in severe TBI, because there’s so many variables that go into outcome,” said Dr. O’Phelan. This test likely would be administered in the first hours after injury, but many factors might affect patients’ outcomes, she added.

One influential factor is age. “If you have a von Willebrand factor of whatever number, that might have different importance in a 30-year-old than in an 80-year-old,” said Dr. O’Phelan. “We need to understand how to interpret those findings better.”

The study was supported by the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Dr. Thomas and Dr. O’Phelan have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on


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