News Release

Rapid blood test could detect brain injury in minutes, study shows

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Pittsburgh

David Okonkwo, M.D., Ph.D.

image: Director, Neurotrauma Clinical Trials Center at UPMC and professor of neurological surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine view more 

Credit: UPMC

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 17, 2020 - A blood protein test could detect the severity of head trauma in under 15 minutes, according to research published recently in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

By showing that glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) can accurately determine the severity of a brain injury through a blood test, the research team working on this study, led by author David Okonkwo, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Neurotrauma Clinical Trials Center at UPMC and professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, advanced the development of a point-of-care testing device designed to help clinicians assess traumatic brain injury (TBI) in minutes.

For the rapid test, the vision included using a hand-held device with a cartridge that would measure GFAP in a patient's blood. Researchers at Abbott Laboratories, a global health care company, will need to finalize the test for the i-STAT device, which already is used by the military and health care providers around the world to perform several common blood tests within minutes. The blood test would reveal a patient's GFAP level.

"This would eliminate guesswork in diagnosing TBIs and learn whether a person needs further treatment," said Okonkwo. "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."

For this study, which expanded upon previous GFAP findings, researchers enrolled 1,497 people who sought care at one of the 18 Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in TBI (TRACK-TBI) level 1 trauma centers nationwide over four years. GFAP is a Food and Drug Administration-approved marker for ruling out whether a patient needs a head computed tomography (CT) scan within 12 hours after a mild TBI.

For years, scientists have studied blood tests involving GFAP. They also have studied a similar protein called S100B. Both proteins are released in the bloodstream in response to specific injuries, including TBI. But this study showed that GFAP substantially outperformed S100B as a TBI diagnostic marker.

"Knowing this protein can show the severity of a TBI through a simple blood test is promising when considering we can use a device that already is in widespread use in hospitals, doctors' offices and urgent care facilities. All we would need to do is add an extra cartridge to the device to analyze blood for the GFAP protein," said Okonkwo. He estimates this device could potentially decrease unnecessary CT scans by 20% or more, saving nearly $100 million in medical expenses annually.


With support from the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Research and Development Command's U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, Abbott Point-of-Care and TRACK-TBI have begun a pivotal, FDA-regulated trial to validate the i-STAT to evaluate the effectiveness of Abbott's point-of-care blood test technology, using whole blood sample type.

This published study is a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Defense, the TRACK-TBI consortium and Abbott Laboratories.

This work was supported with funding from the NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Additional authors on the study include Ross Puffer, M.D., of UPMC and Mayo Clinic; Ava Puccio, R.N., Ph.D., of UPMC; Esther Yuh, M.D., Ph.D., John Yue, M.D., Sabrina Taylor, Ph.D., Pratik Mukherjee, M.D., Ph.D., and Amy Markowitz, J.D., of UC San Francisco and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center; Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, M.D., Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania; Frederick Korley, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Michigan; Kevin Wang, Ph.D., of the University of Florida; Xiaoying Sun, M.S., Sonia Jain, Ph.D., of UC San Diego; and Geoffrey Manley, M.D., Ph.D., of UC San Francisco.

To read this release online or share it, visit

About UPMC

A $21 billion health care provider and insurer, Pittsburgh-based UPMC is inventing new models of patient-centered, cost-effective, accountable care. The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates more than 90,000 employees, 40 hospitals, 700 doctors' offices and outpatient sites, and a 3.9 million-member Insurance Services Division, the largest medical insurer in western Pennsylvania. In the most recent fiscal year, UPMC contributed $1.4 billion in benefits to its communities, including more care to the region's most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution, and paid more than $800 million in federal, state, and local taxes. Working in close collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC shares its clinical, managerial, and technological skills worldwide through its innovation and commercialization arm, UPMC Enterprises, and through UPMC International. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside among the nation's best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America's Best Children's Hospitals. ?For more information, go to

About the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences include the schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Graduate School of Public Health. The schools serve as the academic partner to the UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). Together, their combined mission is to train tomorrow's health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care. Since 1998, Pitt and its affiliated university faculty have ranked among the top 10 educational institutions in grant support from the National Institutes of Health. For additional information about the Schools of the Health Sciences, please visit

Contact: Sheila Davis
Mobile: 412-313-6070

Contact: Wendy Zellner
Office: 412-586-9777
Mobile: 412-973-7266

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.