Using chemical biomarkers released by the brain immediately after a head injury occurs, researchers can now determine when patients need urgent medical attention.
The technique was developed by researchers at the University’s Advanced Nanomaterials, Structures and Applications (ANMSA) group, led by Dr Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer. Research demonstrating the technique has been published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
According to Birmingham University, the method works using surface enhanced Raman scattering, in which a beam of light is ‘fired’ at the biomarker. The biomarker, taken from a pin prick blood sample, is prepared by being inserted into an optofluidic chip, where the blood plasma is separated and flows over a highly specialised surface. The light causes the biomarker to vibrate or rotate and this movement can be measured, giving an accurate indication of the level of injury that has occurred.
The key to sensitivity is in the way the biomarkers interact with the surface. The team developed a low-cost platform, made from polymer and covered with a thin film of gold. This structure is then subjected to a strong electric field, which redistributes the film into a distinctive pattern, optimised to resonate in exactly the right way with the light beam.
In a statement, Dr Oppenheimer, said: “This is a relatively straightforward and quick technique that offers a low-cost, but highly accurate way of assessing traumatic brain injury which up until now has not been possible.”
Current methods of assessing traumatic brain injury (TBI) often rely on the Glasgow Coma Scale, in which clinicians make a subjective judgement based on the patient’s ability to open their eyes, their verbal responses and their ability to move in response to an instruction.
“The current tools we use to diagnose TBI are really quite old fashioned, and rely on the subjective judgement of the paramedic or the emergency doctors,” said Dr Oppenheimer. “There’s an urgent need for new technology in this area to enable us to offer the right treatment for the patient, and also to avoid expensive and time-consuming tests for patients where there is no TBI.”
The next stage for this research will be to miniaturise the device technology used to analyse the samples, so that it could be easily stored on board an ambulance for use by paramedics, used at sporting events where head injuries can be hard to detect, at local GP services or in hospitals. The team is working towards optimising and trailing a prototype technology on a larger patient cohort.