Imagine: You’re playing soccer and get a bad bump on the head. Next, you spit in a tube. What? Thanks to a new study, doctors may soon be able to diagnose a concussion with just a saliva test.
A three-year project studied 1,028 professional men’s rugby players. The rough sport, similar to American football, can lead to incidents of concussions (injuries to the brain). The study is called SCRUM (Study of Concussion in Rugby Union through MicroRNAs). That shortened name is a play on a rugby term.
Organs called salivary glands around our mouths and cheeks make saliva. That liquid is mostly made of water with a few other chemicals like salts and enzymes. Your saliva tells a lot about you. DNA tests can use your spit to identify where your ancestors came from. Other saliva tests can show whether you have some types of cancer, parasites, or allergies.
Researchers looked at 14 biomarkers in saliva. Biomarkers are signals in your body. They measured the amount of different types of molecules called microRNAs or small non-coding RNAs. They found that those markers can show if a player has a concussion. Scientists think signals from nerves in the mouth and throat affect saliva. That’s how it can quickly indicate an injury.
“The body knows that something has happened upstairs, so every part of the body begins to adapt and respond to that injury, including saliva,” Antonio Belli says. He is a professor of trauma neurosurgery who helped lead the study. “So what we can do is to read the messages that cells send to each other to say that there’s been an injury somewhere in the brain, and the body needs to deal with it.”
God created each part of our bodies to work together. Psalm 139:13 says, “You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
People with concussions need to rest to allow their brains time to heal. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone has a concussion. “It is a problem at the professional level . . . imagine what happens at grassroots levels or community sport,” Belli says. “It’s often a parent or a coach or nobody at all that has to make that determination whether someone has had a brain injury.”
A company called Marker Diagnostics wants to sell the saliva concussion test. The saliva has to be sent to a lab. But researchers say they could develop a game-side test in just a few years. Players could take that test right away.