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Biomarker test may give early warning of brain woes

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - A way to detect fragments of broken brain cells that leak into the bloodstream may help doctors more quickly and precisely treat people with severe head injuries or brain diseases, say researchers at the University of Florida's McKnight Brain Institute.

UF scientists have discovered they can use an approach similar to one commonly used in HIV or pregnancy testing to find bits of axons - nerve fibers that help brain cells communicate - in the blood and spinal fluid of laboratory rats modeling human spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries.

The discovery could lead to tests for the clinic or battlefield to diagnose ailments with just a few drops of blood, bypassing cumbersome and expensive CT or MRI brain scanning equipment. The researchers report their findings in the current online edition of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.

The cellular debris, derived from a protein called NF-H, was not found in the blood or other fluids of healthy animals and humans. That leads researchers to believe it is a biomarker, a substance in blood that signals the presence of disease or injury.

"We could easily see that this particular protein is detectable very soon after a disease starts or an injury occurs," said Gerry Shaw, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience in the College of Medicine. "A lot more of it is then released in the two or three days following a brain or spinal cord injury, which is interesting because it signals a kind of brain cell death that you could potentially do something about therapeutically."

The test would be helpful in emergency rooms or in combat situations if it could be developed into a simple handheld device that could confirm brain or spinal injury.

"Shaken-soldier syndrome is a traumatic brain injury that shows in veterans who have survived roadside blasts," said Douglas Anderson, Ph.D., chairman of neuroscience at the McKnight Brain Institute who participated in the
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Contact: John Pastor
jpastor@vpha.health.ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida
17-Oct-2005


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