Traumatic Brain Injury
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Over the past decade, concussions have become a hard hitting issue in the world of medical research. A concussion is medically defined as a traumatic brain injury as a result of a violent blow that causes an immediate alteration in brain function. The effects of that injury are something that became all too real for Penn State University Schreyer Scholar Matthew Roda. "When I was in high school, I was a big ice hockey player, when one game, I slid head first into the boards. Being worried about a concussion, my coached asked me a couple questions and then let me keep playing. The reality was, I had a concussion so severe, I had to miss two months of school full time I was in and out of doctors offices for about six months." Roda's injury would end up shaping his career path and motivated him to start Reflexion in partnership with Penn State. The startup is developing a way to test for concussions faster and more accurately. "It's not like a broken arm where you spend three weeks in a cast and you're good to go. it can fundamentally change who you are, and that's very scary." It differs from typical concussion testing including the popular ImPACT test. "It looks like an arcade game, but really we're able to break down important parts of the brain. The test uses a 6 foot long board of six LED panels with hundreds of sensors that light up called The Edge. "One of the tests we're able to do, lights appear you have to touch them as quickly and accurately as possible, but we're able to look at a lot of different brain functions, we're able to look at speed of information processing, your anticipation of these lights, how many are you able to get in general, is your hand eye coordination accurate." The Reflexion Edge is still in pre-clinical development, being tested by Penn State athletes including the football team. Roda said the end goal is to create a finished product that's affordable for high school programs and mobile enough to detect concussions right on the sidelines. Quickly recognizing concussions is one thing but diagnosing the severity and recovery time is a whole different ball game. "If they hit their head and they have a headache and they're dizzy, I know they have a concussion I don't need a special tool. What I need is a tool that tells me, Are they going to be better in a week, or are they still going to have symptoms a month down the road." Hicks is a co inventor of preliminary patents for microRNA biomarkers in concussion that is assigned to the SUNY Upstate and Penn State Research Foundations and licensed to Quadrant Biosciences Inc. Hicks also serves as a consultant for Quadrant Biosciences Inc. And that is where his cutting edge research comes in. "What you really need is a tool kit a quick and accurate tool kit." Hicks said currently, severity and length of concussion diagnosis largely rely on patients accurately describing their symptoms. He said that's something that doctors cannot really see or measure. While his method is something you can see. (SPIT) The technology is tied to something called microRNA. "MicroRNA is a regulatory molecule ,it blocks the steps that are needed to turn your DNA into proteins." But it can also help detect and pinpoint recovery times for brain injuries. "Each microRNA has a different purpose to it and we can see which ones are changing after something happens, like a brain injury." That's where spit is helpful. "It's easily collectible, saliva, and it's chock full of microRNAs." The test is simple. Saliva is collected with a special swab and then machines read the microRNA in the saliva molecules. The results indicate if a head injury altered the patient's microRNA and how much it changed. "You may get a really clear window into what's going on in their brain and how long their recovery process is going to take." This type of testing is already being used to diagnose the flu. "We're using technology that's already being used for measuring other diseases and applying it in a novel way to concussions." Again, like Reflexion's technology, it isn't for public use yet, it's still in clinical testing. But it could be here sooner rather than later. "I think reasonably you could say you might see this in a doctor's office within four or five years if follow up studies are successful." Hicks said further clinical tests could take another two years and government regulations testing could take another couple years before it's ready for patients.