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University of Birmingham develops new diagnostic for traumatic brain injury

Researchers from the University of Birmingham have designed and developed a novel diagnostic device to detect traumatic brain injury (TBI) by shining a safe laser into the eye.

Described in Science Advances, the technique is different from other diagnostic methods and is expected to be developed into a hand-held device for use in the critical ‘golden hour’ after traumatic brain injury, when life critical decisions on treatment must be made.

The device incorporates a class 1, CE marked, eye-safe laser and a Raman spectroscopy system, which uses light to reveal the biochemical and structural properties of molecules by detecting how they scatter light, to detect the presence and levels of known biomarkers for brain injury.

There is an urgent need for new technologies to improve the timeliness of TBI diagnosis, which is a leading cause of death worldwide. TBI is caused by sudden shock or impact to the head, which can cause mild to severe injury to the brain, and although it needs diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible to prevent further irreversible damage, it is hard to diagnose at the point of injury. Moreover, radiological investigations such as X-ray or MRI are very expensive and slow to show results.

Birmingham researchers, led by Professor Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer from the School of Chemical Engineering, designed and developed the novel diagnostic hand-held device to assess patients as soon as injury occurs. It is fast, precise, and non-invasive for the patient, causing no additional discomfort, can provide information on the severity of the trauma, and will be suitable to be used on-site – at the roadside, on the battlefield or on the sports pitch – to assess TBI.

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