Measuring brain cell distress
April 29, 2020
Doctors, engineers, and researchers from Michigan Medicine; College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; College of Engineering; and the Michigan Concussion Center have developed a noninvasive way to measure brain cell distress.
Currently, healthcare professionals diagnosing concussions must rely on individual interpretation of clinical examinations, which are subjective in nature. To address this shortcoming, the research team turned to developing a novel infrared laser to assist clinicians. The new device is comprised of optical fibers delivering infrared light to the forehead in order to measure brain metabolites associated with a head injury. While the device is years away from being used in clinics and emergency rooms, the early results suggest clinicians may soon have clear diagnostic criteria.
The current study uses a neuroimaging device called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which measures changes in blood oxygenation across various areas of the brain. The team is currently evaluating the differences in oxygenation, along with reaction time and accuracy on a standard test in concussed participants. During their first visit (within three days of injury), participants are asked to complete a computer attention task as quickly and accurately as possible. Once their symptoms resolve, the concussed participants are scheduled for a follow-up visit where they complete the same task. Researchers hypothesize that patients, although no longer reporting concussion symptoms, may still experience underlying physiological recovery that can be detected using this specialized neuroimaging technique.
Although the current fNIRS system can adequately measure brain oxygenation levels, the new laser will be able to notify clinicians if the brain cells are able to utilize the oxygen. This technology is the first step in the development of a test that may be able to diagnose concussion, instead of solely relying on a clinical examination and interpretation by a medical provider. Since the fNIRS device is portable and non-invasive, long-term implications include eventual use on the sidelines or in a clinic to assist with the concussion diagnostic process.