Dec 12, 2017
Prof. Joseph Loo
UCLA researchers have developed a biochemical test for assessing concussions and other forms of brain injury.
 
In a study published in August 2017, UCLA researchers led by Dr. Ina-Beate Wanner, an associate researcher in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and Dr. Joseph Loo, professor in the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry,(pictured right) identified a novel panels of proteins released when the brain undergoes physical injury. This protein signature can be used as a way for clinicians to quickly and accurately assess for the presence and severity of brain injury.
 
Traumatic brain injury (TBI), like sports-related concussions or car-accident related head injuries, often go undiagnosed, and judging the severity of such an injury can be difficult. Existing techniques like CT-scans to assess brain injury show large structural brain damage, but fail to capture more subtle changes in brain function and cellular integrity. Techniques to study brain function, such as asking the victim a series of questions, are often subjective and prone to bias. 
 
To address these issues, the researchers sought to establish a protein-based test for brain damage. According to the study, damaged brain cells will leak their contents into the surrounding brain fluid. The researchers first looked for proteins in the brain fluid unique to patients who had undergone TBI. Using these patient samples and cell culture models of brain injury, the researchers identified a panel of four proteins unique to brain injury.
 
In addition to leaking into the brain fluid, proteins from brain injury may also leak into the circulatory system. Using a quantitative form of mass spectrometry and immunoblotting, the researchers quantified how much of each of these proteins were present in patient brain fluid and blood samples. This revealed that some proteins had unique concentration profiles across time: some proteins were immediately abundant after the injury and decreased over time, while some proteins were initially low and their concentration increased over time. 
 
According to the study, mild and severe brain injuries lead to different patterns of these biomarker protein profiles, allowing the researchers to predict the severity of the injury. The authors even suggest that their analysis may allow clinicians to discern between someone who is likely to survive their injury and who may not.
 
Many thanks to Joseph Ong for writing this article.  Photo courtesy of Joseph Loo.