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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 04/20/99
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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UC Medical Center Researchers Develop Method to Measure Brain Damage

Cincinnati—University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers recently collaborated with researchers from other medical centers to identify a biochemical test that measures ongoing brain damage. According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 5.3 million Americans or over two percent of the US population currently live with disabilities from traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI can affect a person cognitively, physically, and emotionally. A person with TBI might experience memory loss, lack of concentration, slowed ability to process information, seizures, double vision, loss of vision, headaches or migraines, loss of smell or taste, speech impairments, anxiety, impulsive behavior, depression, and mood swings.

During their study, researchers identified a biomarker for brain damage, Tau protein, that is elevated after traumatic injury to the brain. "The new discovery of this biomarker enables physicians to measure the extent of damage that is ongoing in the brain," says senior author and UC professor of psychiatry Frank Zemlan, PhD. By testing for the presence of this biomarker, physicians can measure the integrity of axons that carry the biochemical messages and electrical impulses throughout the brain. TBI can cause microscopic damage to the axons in brain cells which is impossible to detect on a CT scan, but can be quickly quantified by measuring the levels of this biomarker in cerebrospinal fluid. Measurement of this biomarker may also be used to more precisely test the effectiveness of drug treatments for brain damage in future clinical trials for stroke patients.

Researchers have also found that ongoing brain damage can be detected in blood samples after traumatic head injury. However, currently there is no blood test available for assessing injury to the brain. "One problem is that some adults and children who receive a blow to the head have brain damage that is undetected at the time of injury," says Zemlan. He adds, "The undetected brain damage usually occurs during a fall, a motor vehicle accident, or a football injury. Detection of this biomarker can identify brain damage as it is occurring and allow for early treatment of the neurologic problem."

This past week, UC College of Medicine researchers from the Departments of Psychiatry, Molecular Genetics, and Neurosurgery presented findings of their research, which was recently published in the "Journal of Neurochemistry." Results of their findings were presented at a symposium sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Washington, DC.

"Quantification of Axonal Damage in Traumatic Brain Injury: Affinity Purification and Characterization of Cerebrospinal Fluid Tau Proteins," was coauthored by Zemlan and research assistant Patricia Luebbe of psychiatry; associate professor Gary Dean, PhD, of molecular genetics; neurosurgical resident Ned Weiner, MD; and Daniel Woo, PhD, of neurology at the UC College of Medicine. Research teams led by Richard Rudick, MD, and Jeffery Cohen, MD, of the Mellen Center at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Thomas Campbell, PhD, at Isolab in Norton, Ohio, and William Rosenberg, MD, of the University of California at San Francisco, collaborated with the University of Cincinnati researchers on this NIH funded study.

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