Researchers at the University of Birmingham have developed an innovative diagnostic device designed for the swift detection of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) by utilizing a safe laser directed into the eye. Described in Science Advances, this unique technique sets itself apart from traditional diagnostic methods and is positioned to become a handheld device crucial for the critical 'golden hour' following a traumatic brain injury when vital decisions on life-saving treatments must be made.
The device incorporates a class 1, CE marked, eye-safe laser along with a distinct Raman spectroscopy system. This system uses light to unveil the biochemical and structural properties of molecules by detecting their light-scattering behavior, effectively identifying the presence and levels of established biomarkers associated with brain injuries. With the urgent need for timely TBI diagnoses, a significant global cause of mortality, this device offers a fast, precise, and non-invasive assessment tool for patients at the point of injury.
Traditional radiological investigations, such as X-rays or MRIs, are both expensive and slow, making the hand-held diagnostic device a valuable alternative for on-the-spot assessments. By operating via a scan of the back of the eye where the optic nerve resides, the device capitalizes on the close link between the optic nerve and the brain, carrying identical biological information in the form of protein and lipid biomarkers.
The researchers conducted comprehensive tests, including alignment and focusing trials using a phantom eye, differentiating between TBI and non-TBI states with animal tissue experiments, and implementing decision support tools utilizing artificial intelligence for rapid TBI classification.
The diagnostic device is now poised for further evaluation, encompassing clinical feasibility and efficacy studies, along with assessing patient acceptability. The researchers envision the transformation of this device into a portable technology suitable for point-of-care use. Its aim is to rapidly determine the occurrence of TBI, classify its severity, and facilitate appropriate triage, ensuring timely and targeted interventions.