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Study finds blood test might help diagnose concussions

A new blood test that looks for high levels of the protein T-tau, which is released into the blood when the brain is injured, might help diagnose concussions in athletes, a small Swedish study found.

The researchers tested 28 ice hockey players for T-tau protein before the start of the season, and then hours and days after suffering a blow to the head during a game. Elevated T-tau protein levels have previously been linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

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They found the players had higher levels of T-tau in their blood compared with their levels before the start of the season. The highest levels were detected within the first hour after the injury, however they remained relatively high nearly a week later. The study also found that the higher the levels of T-tau, the longer it took for concussion symptoms to fade and the player to return to the game.

The findings suggest that T-tau levels could be a way to test for concussions in athletes and to assess when they’re able to compete again, the researchers wrote.

BOTTOM LINE: A blood test that looks for the protein T-tau, which is released into the blood when the brain is injured, might help diagnose concussions in athletes.

CAUTIONS: The study included a small number of participants so the findings may not apply to a wider group. Two of the authors work for Quanterix, which makes the new blood test. Four of the authors hold the patent for using the T-tau protein as a biomarker for brain injury.

WHERE TO FIND IT: JAMA Neurology, March 13

Autism could
be linked to environmental toxins, study suggests

Some cases of autism might be linked to toxic substances in the environment, suggests a large US study based on a review of 100 million health insurance claims.

Researchers at the University of Chicago looked at county-by-county rates of autism and intellectual disabilities and the rate of genital malformations in newborn boys, which they used as an indicator that the parents had been exposed to pollutants.

For every 1 percent increase in the rate of these birth defects within a specific county, the rate of autism increased by nearly 300 percent. The data were adjusted to account for gender, ethnic, socioeconomic, and other differences among counties.

The environment may not be the only explanation for autism rates. The study found lower rates of autism in areas where a doctor’s diagnosis is needed to enter a special education program.

BOTTOM LINE: Autism rates might be linked to parents’ exposure to environmental toxins.

CAUTIONS: The study does not cite specific toxins that may contribute to the risk for autism. The study could not confirm that the genital malformations were caused by environmental toxins, and does not prove a cause and effect relationship between pollution and autism.

WHERE TO FIND IT: PLoS Computational Biology, March 13

LARA SALAHI

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