According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year, there are an estimated 2.2 million emergency department visits for traumatic brain injuries (TBI). For people with head injuries, quick evaluation and treatment are critical.
That’s why researchers at Hennepin County Medical Center (Minneapolis, Minn.) and the University of Minnesota are launching an innovative, comprehensive study in collaboration with Abbott to better identify the range of brain injuries among patients. Using multiple evaluation tools, including eye tracking, blood-based biomarkers, imaging and cognitive measures, scientists hope to develop a new standard approach to help classify brain injuries, including concussions, and provide the information needed to guide doctors’ treatment decisions.
“We know that there are different types of brain damage that can occur after trauma, whether it’s a mild concussion or a severe injury,” said neurosurgeon Uzma Samadani, M.D., Ph.D., Rockswold Kaplan Endowed Chair for TBI Research at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), associate professor at the University of Minnesota and one of the lead investigators of the study. “Our goal with this study is to combine multiple assessment techniques to quickly assess the severity of brain injuries and enable clinicians to provide appropriate treatments.”
Using various tools to assess head injury
Dr. Samadani’s prior work suggests that eye tracking may detect injury in the brain, which is not always visible in imaging such as a CT scan. In the study, researchers will use eye tracking, which involves a high-frequency camera to map the positions of the pupils as a person watches a video or TV.
“Data have shown a connection between brain injury and abnormal eye movements,” said Dr. Samadani. “With new high-resolution cameras, we can detect subtle differences in movement much more easily and objectively than in the past.”
The study will also employ blood-based biomarker evaluations, as research suggests that certain biomarkers could indicate brain injury. Beth McQuiston, M.D., medical director, Diagnostics, Abbott and co-sponsor of the study says, “When someone experiences a head injury like a concussion, specific protein biomarkers will be found in the blood. If the protein levels are higher than normal, that may show a brain injury has occurred and serve as a warning bell that further evaluation is needed.”
Abbott researchers are working on a test designed to detect the specific proteins in the blood associated with brain injury and help evaluate potential concussions. The test, which is currently in development, would be analyzed on Abbott’s i-STAT – a handheld, portable device that is used to perform a broad range of blood tests right at a person’s side.
Lastly, the Minnesota Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Grant Program will fund MRI imaging to be used in the study to look for finer structural issues that may not be visible in CT scans. Imaging studies will include MRI scans not typically performed on trauma patients and may help identify tiny areas of bleeding or other damage to the brain.
“Imaging tells us what the brain looks like, eye tracking tells us how well it’s working and blood-based biomarkers can tell us the nature of the damage,” said Thomas Bergman, M.D., study co-investigator and Chief of Neurosurgery at HCMC. “When we put all of this information together, we will have a better understanding about brain injury that will help us treat patients now and in the future.”