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New Portable Sensor Could Allow Fast Diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury

A researcher from the University of Massachusetts Amherst received a $3.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a portable optical sensor system for a medic or layperson to rapidly diagnose the severity of a brain injury in the field using a single drop of blood.

UMass Amherst professor Nianqiang Wu. Image Credit: University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Nianqiang Wu, the Armstrong-Siadat Endowed Professor from the Department of Chemical Engineering at UMass Amherst, is the principal investigator of the study.

The novel optical sensor system includes an ultra-sensitive test strip that looks like a pregnancy test strip and a portable optical reader to record the findings. The internal structure of the system has been designed with nanotechnology to decrease false alarms and amplify the detection signals.

A drop of the blood from a victim obtained through a finger prick is placed on the test strip and further fed into the diagnostic reader. The method is similar to the one utilized by millions of diabetics to test their blood sugar.

Generally, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is caused by a heavy blow or jolt to the head. The most frequent causes are traffic accidents, falls, sports injuries, and assaults. As per the Centers for Disease Control, around 50,000 people die from TBI-related cases annually in the United States and 5.3 million people survive with disabilities resulting from TBI.

The methods that are currently available for diagnosing TBI’s severity are neither quick nor field-ready. They involve imaging tests like MRI or CAT scans or observational tests made over time, like memory loss, loss of ability to move, and loss of consciousness. The entire direct and indirect costs for the treatment of TBI are approximated to be $60 billion per year only in the United States.

Currently blood tests require a tube of blood from venipuncture and take hours or days to get the test reports from a central laboratory. This device can be read with a portable reader by a layperson at emergency rooms, clinics, football [fields], [playing] courts and at home.

Nianqiang Wu, Professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst

The device has the ability to provide results within 25 minutes.

If successful, such an inexpensive and rapid diagnostic testing tool will change practice in diagnosis of traumatic brain injury in the emergency departments and pre-hospital settings. It will increase the accuracy of diagnosis, reduce costs, and allow for earlier medical treatment aimed at mitigating both short- and long-term sequelae (pathological conditions).

Nianqiang Wu, Professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst

NIH research by Wu is a collaborative project that included multidisciplinary scientists from various institutions and hospitals, including the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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