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A series, by Ellen Abbott, on the issue of concussions in CNY.

Could saliva help diagnose concussions?

Ellen Abbott
SUNY Upstate Medical University researcher Frank Middleton and Richard Uhlig, founder of Quadrant Biosciences, which sponsored the concussion research

Researchers at SUNY Upstate Medical University and Penn State have come up with a way to tell whether a child has suffered a concussion, and how severe it is. And all it takes is a swab of saliva.

More than 2 million children and teens suffer from concussions every year. And there are not a lot of clinically proven methods to diagnose the severity of these head injuries, or the children’s prognosis. That could be changing, after researchers identified an accurate biomarker that can be used as a diagnostic tool.

SUNY Upstate researcher Frank Middleton says it stems from studies of molecules called microRNA that can be collected from saliva.

“What the tests appear to be revealing are the severity and potentially how long it will take the person to recover fully. And that’s critical information when you are planning to rehabilitation of that individual to get them back to school or back to a job,” Middleton said.

Middleton says research presented recently to a pediatrics organization showed that the microRNA’s levels in saliva correctly predicted how long concussion symptoms would remain 90 percent of the time. He expects these concussion tests could be used in clinical settings in as little as two years.

He says studies of these biomarkers also show promise in other areas of brain research, including Parkinson’s disease and autism.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.