Minnesota hospitals create nation's largest concussion study

- Hennepin County Medical Center and the University of Minnesota are collaborating to develop a standard approach to evaluate and diagnose concussions and other traumatic brain injuries, the largest study of its kind in the nation.

"We know that there are different types of brain damage that can occur after trauma, whether it's a mild concussion or a severe injury," said lead investigator and neurosurgeon Uzma Samadani, M.D., Ph.D., Rockswold Kaplan Endowed Chair for TBI Research at HCMC and associate professor at the University of Minnesota. “Our goal with this study is to combine multiple assessment techniques to quickly assess the severity of brain injuries and enable clinicians to provide appropriate treatments."

Eye tracking

According to Dr. Samadani's prior work, eye tracking may detect injury in the brain, which is not always visible in imaging such as a CT scan. In the study, researchers will use eye tracking, which involves a high-frequency camera to map the positions of the pupils as a person watches a video or TV.

"Data have shown a connection between brain injury and abnormal eye movements," said Dr. Samadani. "With new high-resolution cameras, we can detect subtle differences in movement much more easily and objectively than in the past."

Biomarkers in the blood

The study will also look at blood-based biomarkers, which could indicate brain injury.

"When someone experiences a head injury like a concussion, specific protein biomarkers will be found in the blood. If the protein levels are higher than normal, that may show a brain injury has occurred and serve as a warning bell that further evaluation is needed,” study co-sponsor Dr. Beth McQuiston said.

Abbott researchers are working on a test designed to detect the specific proteins in the blood associated with brain injury and help evaluate potential concussions.

What MRI scans can do

Not all structural issues are visible in CT scans, so researchers will use MRI scans, which are not typically performed on trauma patients to potentially identify tiny areas of bleeding or other damage to the brain.

"Imaging tells us what the brain looks like, eye tracking tells us how well it's working and blood-based biomarkers can tell us the nature of the damage," said Thomas Bergman, M.D., study co-investigator and Chief of Neurosurgery at HCMC. "When we put all of this information together, we will have a better understanding about brain injury that will help us treat patients now and in the future."

About the study

Researchers plan to screen 9,000 trauma patients and enroll at least 1,000 of them as part of the study. Patients could range from children to elderly adults, as well as people who are conscious to those in coma. Enrolled patients will be followed for up to one year, making the research the largest single-center, prospective study of TBI in the country.
 

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