In January 2021, Abbott, a large-scale healthcare innovation company, received FDA clearance for a handheld blood test that diagnoses traumatic brain injury (TBI). The test delivers rapid results, accurately detecting proteins present in blood plasma after a TBI.

Clinicians face challenges when diagnosing traumatic brain injury (TBI). For the most part, the standard tests are still subjective, and some newer systems rely on baseline readings for comparison. Signs and symptoms may not appear for hours, days, or even weeks following head trauma. For this reason, some people never seek treatment. But the absence of a diagnosis or misdiagnosis may lead to long-term complications like poor coordination, headaches, mood changes, and other symptoms that can reduce quality of life.

When presented with a potential TBI, clinicians currently check vision, reflexes, and other neurological functions; they also assess cognitive skills such as memory and concentration. Brain imaging can conclusively detect TBI, but costly CT scans and MRIs are generally recommended only when more severe symptoms are present.

The new technology from Abbott works with i-STAT Alinity, Abbott’s existing handheld diagnostic platform. The test requires a small blood draw and a centrifuge. This instrument spins the sample to isolate plasma from other blood components. After placing the plasma in the test cartridge and sliding it into the i-STAT Alinity device, results appear in just 15 minutes. A positive test could speed up the time it takes for a patient to have a CT scan, while a negative result can eliminate the cost of unnecessary tests.

The test’s current capabilities make it ideal for emergency rooms and other clinical settings. Abbott has already started on a second-generation test that will use a whole blood sample rather than plasma, eliminating the need for a centrifuge. Making the device available for athletic teams and other high-risk activities could help people get the right care right away, speed recovery, and reduce the risk of life-altering health complications after a TBI.