Can biomarkers be used to diagnose concussion injury?

August 8, 2016
Biomarker research

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — A team led by Dr. Matthew Rogatzki, assistant professor of health and human performance at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, will study members of the university’s 2016 football team to determine if biomarkers can be used to predict when an athlete is at an elevated risk of sustaining a concussion injury as well as diagnose concussion injury.

Up to 100 volunteers will be included in the study, which will be conducted both in the Williams Fieldhouse and Ralph E. Davis Pioneer Stadium at UW-Platteville.

In addition to Rogatzki, members of the research team include Dr. Colleen McCabe, professor and chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance at UW-Platteville; Scott Soja, assistant professor of health and human performance at UW-Platteville; Ryanne Breckenridge, certified athletic trainer at UW-Platteville; Dr. Jeffrey White, family physician at Medical Associates in Platteville and team physician; and Dr. Julien Baker, professor at the University of the West of Scotland. UW-Platteville student researchers include Abigail Fischer, a senior biology major from Crivitz, Wisconsin; Sydney Keuler, a health and human performance major from Cottage Grove, Wisconsin; and Nicole Thurik, a senior biology major from Monroe, Wisconsin. Marcia Taddy, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in physical education-health promotion emphasis from UW-Platteville in 2009, will also assist in the research.

On Saturday, Aug. 13, the researchers will obtain baseline biomarker data from all volunteers. From that date through December, anytime an athlete experiences an impact requiring evaluation for concussion injury, biomarker data will be collected one, two, three, four, five and 24 hours post impact to determine the biomarker's efficacy of diagnosing concussion injury – and at what time after injury efficacy is the greatest.

The researchers also will collect biomarker data before and after every home game in 18 players wearing Riddell helmets containing INSITE technology, which analyzes the number and location of hits to the head. They will use this data to determine if biomarker levels are correlated with number of hits to the head. Data from the Riddell INSITE helmets will be transmitted from the helmet to a computerized device during practice and game play. Biomarker data will be measured from venous blood serum samples using an enzyme immunometric assay kit.

“This research is important because currently there is no single method of diagnosing concussion injury,” said Rogatzki. “The most common concussion assessment is the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool 3 (SCAT3), developed in 2013. This is a very effective test, but may be normal, even when a concussion injury has occurred. The outcome of the SCAT3 is largely based on cooperation of the athlete, such that some aspects of the SCAT3 can be cheated by players wishing to return to play.”

Rogatzki said returning to play after sustaining a concussion can be very dangerous if the athlete receives another blow to the head that, in a worst-case scenario, can result in coma or death – a scenario called second impact syndrome. “Finding a biomarker to diagnose concussion will provide an objective test that cannot be cheated by an athlete and will result in less cases of second impact syndrome,” he said. “On the other hand, the biomarker may also be beneficial as it will allow players to re-enter the game when a concussion does not occur, reducing unnecessary loss of playing time.”

Rogatzki believes the research will show small increases in biomarker levels with subconcussive hits and will show high efficacy of the biomarker to diagnose concussion injury. “If this research shows that this biomarker does indeed have high efficacy for diagnosing concussion, more research will need to be conducted to confirm our findings,” he said. “If the hypothesis of this research is incorrect, other viable biomarkers will need to be tested, in the same way, to determine if another biomarker has greater efficacy for diagnosing concussion injury.”

“Dr. Rogatzki’s biomarker research has the potential to make the sport of football significantly safer at all levels,” said Mike Emendorfer, head football coach and interim athletic director at UW-Platteville. “Pioneer football is excited to be a part of this research and any further studies that may need to be conducted.”

“In my opinion, the research conducted by Dr. Rogatzki and his team of faculty, staff, undergraduate students and community members has two important benefits,” said McCabe. “First, the universal advancement and improvements in diagnosing concussion injury and secondly, for our institution, the opportunity this research provides for UW-Platteville undergraduates to be involved in potentially ground breaking research in our discipline.”

The research is a continuation of research Rogatzki and a team conducted in fall 2015 that specifically looked at subconcussive impacts in 17 junior varsity football players at UW-Platteville. The results of the study showed that biomarkers increase with subconcussive impacts. The efficacy of the biomarkers for diagnosing concussion, however, was not investigated.

Rogatzki believes the new research will lead to more concussion research in the future. He said concussions are very difficult to understand since they cannot be diagnosed with neuroimaging techniques such as computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans. He said many studies must be conducted before the medical community approves biomarkers as an effective diagnostic tool for concussion injury.

Financial support for the research study was provided by a UW-Platteville Scholarly Activity Improvement Fund grant that Rogatzki received as well as supplemental funding from Medical Associates. Rogatzki noted that without the contribution of these two funding sources, the research would not be possible.

As UW-Platteville pursues its vision of being recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities, and empowering each individual, it is guided by four strategic planning priorities. This research aligns with the priorities of providing an outstanding education and enriching the tri-states.

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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