Brain injuries, particularly the milder ones, are difficult to accurately diagnose. CT scanners can help, but often they just don’t have the resolution for clinicians to identify unusual aberrations in the image. Moreover, they expose patients to radiation, are not always available, and the process of using them and evaluating the images produced can take quite some time before results are available.
Researchers at University of Geneva, in collaboration with the Hospitals of Barcelona, Madrid and Seville, have developed a technique, and an accompanying device, that can be used to diagnose mild brain trauma within about ten minutes.
The team first worked at identifying which proteins become present in larger numbers following a brain injury. By testing the blood of confirmed brain trauma patients, they discovered that H-FABP, Interleukin-10, S100B, and GFAP proteins spike in concentration. Though they could have focused on all four proteins, the team discovered that simply by detecting the levels of H-FABP would be enough to diagnose in at least 1/3 of suspect brain trauma patients whether they’re clear of actual brain injury or not. But by also integrating GFAP, the results are significantly improved.
Because brain injury tests are best performed as soon as possible and at the site of injury, the team created a portable device that has only a small spot to apply a drop of blood into into. Once the blood sample is placed, it takes about ten minutes for the results to show up in the form of a solid line within the indicator window above where the blood is placed. You may be reminded of pregnancy tests. The device actually checks whether there’s a minimum of 2.5 nanograms per millilitre of blood of H-FABP and/or GFAP, and if so the blood is marked as positive.
We hope that this technology will pass clinical trials and will be available to coaches and sports medics in order to quickly triage athletes that may be in greater danger than they think.