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‘Game changer:’ University of Calgary researchers develop new concussion diagnosis tool

University of Calgary researchers have developed a tool that can literally help diagnose brain injury with a pinprick of blood.

The diagnostic tool, a polyethylenimine modified graphene-oxide electrochemical immunosensor, as it’s technically known, is a hand-held sensor that will help doctors determine if there’s a brain injury by detecting biomarkers in a sample of blood.

“The way it is diagnosed now is mostly based on questions asked of the patient, as there is no objective measure to test for a concussion,” says Dr. Amir Sanati Nezhad, PhD, assistant professor of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering, the Canada Research Chair in BioMEMS, and a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the Centre for Bioengineering Research and Education.

“With this new method, two hours after you have a suspected injury, you can test the blood using a simple smartphone-sized device.”

Touted as a “literal game changer,” the device is the product created in a partnership between medical researchers and University of Calgary engineers. The latest papers on the project were published in the ACS Sensors and Sensors and Actuators Chemical B journals.

Co-author Dr. Chantel Debert, MD, said accurately measuring the biomarker linked to central nervous system injury will advance the diagnosis and treatment of these injuries.

“It will aid in diagnosing and determining outcomes, helping to ensure patients get their injury assessed quickly, and their total recovery monitored accurately,” explained Debert, associate professor in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the Cumming School of Medicine and member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

Debert said this method will revolutionize treatment.

“We need a more precise and accurate way to detect concussion, as well as a way to predict recovery,” she said.

This new tool, which is set for clinical trials, is at least 100 times more sensitive than other equipment used to test these biomarkers.

The goal is to create a low-cost device that can detect and monitor a brain injury within hours of the injury happening.