For Brain Trauma, an Emerging Suite of Diagnostic Gadgets

Undark | March 14, 2017

03.14.2017 / By Joshua Brockman

The voice of the 911 dispatcher crackled over the intercom at the Colorado Springs Fire Department. A 73-year-old man at a memory care unit in a nursing home had fallen and might have sustained a head injury. In short order, Dr. Stein Bronsky, the medical director, sped to the scene aboard a fire engine.

Upon arrival, he and an ambulance crew found the man sitting upright in a chair in a common area. They quickly learned that no one had witnessed the accident and that he was taking blood thinners. As the paramedics started to assess vital signs and check for any external bleeding, Bronsky produced the Infrascanner, a portable device that uses near-infrared light to detect bleeding inside the brain. About two minutes later — after taking eight measurements of the right and left sides of the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital areas of the man’s head — the result was positive.

As a precaution, Bronsky repeated the test with the same results.

“Based on that positive reading, knowing that certain hospitals have neurosurgery capability and some don’t, I instructed the crew to bring the patient not to the closest hospital but to the closest one that had the neurosurgeon,” he recalls.

That decision made all the difference, and Bronsky credits that portable scanner, which allowed him to make an informed and speedy decision at the scene. Without the device, Bronsky says the nursing home resident would likely have been transported to the closest hospital for a CT scan, and when the result came back positive, he would have had to be moved to yet another hospital with neurosurgical capability — a process that’s more time consuming and expensive, and when dealing with head injuries, when time to treatment can be crucial, more risky for the patient.

...Meanwhile, Banyan Biomarkers is also racing to develop a blood test.

“Every organ but the brain has a simple blood test,” says Ronald Hayes, co-founder and chief science officer of Banyan. “So it’s a way of assessing organically whether or not there’s injury.”

Banyan’s biomarker research is focused on ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1 (UCHL1), which is found in brain neurons, and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), which is found in astrocytes, specialized glial cells found in the central nervous system. The company has licensed its biomarker research to a number of medical device makers including Abbott, Philips, and Quanterix to develop a handheld test for TBI.

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