Nanodevice Could Detect Mild Brain Injuries Immediately, On Scene

Researchers at the Greensboro Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering in North Carolina are developing a new tool that could radically improve how we detect brain injuries after accidents. Instead of requiring the use of an MRI or CAT scan — which can only detect relatively serious injuries to the brain and can only be used in a hospital or clinic — the researchers are building a hand-held tool that could detect even mild traumatic brain injuries at the scene of the accident.
Currently, milder brain trauma such as mild traumatic brain injuries and concussions are among the most difficult injuries for doctors to diagnose, according to lead researcher Marinella Sandros. However, growing scientific research points to the idea that these less-obvious brain injuries can lead to devastating consequences, especially if they are missed.
Repeated concussions, such as those incurred during organized sports, have recently been linked to permanent damage in the brain. Mild traumatic brain injury may lead to a number of long-term problems ranging from clinical depression to memory loss, dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
Any brain injury requires treatment, and that treatment can include long periods of rest. Instead, many people shake it off after sustaining a blow to the head and go right back to their activities. Any further injury, however, can substantially worsen the brain injury.
Getting appropriate treatment as soon as possible after any brain injury can also greatly increase the effectiveness of that treatment.
So, finding a way to detect a brain injury right away at the scene of a car wreck or sports accident would be extremely useful to doctors and could save countless people from needless suffering and disability.
Hand-Held Device Would Measure Compounds in Blood or Bodily Fluids
The device Sandros and her team are working on would allow first responders to take a blood, saliva or urine sample from the accident victim and quickly test it for compounds the body releases when it is injured. The levels of those compounds could indicate a brain injury has occurred.
The technology to perform this type of test currently exists, but it requires specialized equipment and training so it is primarily done only in research labs.
“What we’re really looking to do is take out all of those complexities and package this in a way that’s going to be much more usable on the spot,” says microbiologist Vince Henrich, the director of the Center for Biotechnology and Health Research at UNCG and one of the researchers working on the project.
Ideally, the team hopes to develop a prototype by the end of this year, which would then be put into tests and clinical trials. If they succeed, the finished device could be available within five years — and as widely available as automated external defibrillators (AEDs) within a few years after that.

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