TBICheck: is it possible to diagnose a brain injury within 10 minutes due to latest breakthrough?
Swiss doctors have announced that an incredible scientific advance could make it possible to diagnose a mild traumatic brain injury on the spot and within minutes.
Researchers at the University of Geneva have created a portable device which they claim can be used by anyone, without the patient needing to go to hospital.
So, how does this work – and what could it mean for those suspected of having suffered a brain injury?
What is Traumatic Brain Injury?
It’s important that we know what a mild traumatic brain injury is.
According to brain injury charity Headway, a traumatic brain injury is “an injury to the brain caused by a trauma to the head (head injury). There are many possible causes, including road traffic accidents, assaults, falls and accidents at home or at work”. Headway estimates that 75-80% of all head injuries fall into the category of minor brain injuries.
A mild traumatic brain injury is one where the injuries are likely to be temporary (lasting from a few days, to weeks or longer) or is more subtle. Because of this, mild traumatic brain injuries can often be overlooked.
How is a traumatic brain injury usually diagnosed?
Usually, a CT scan is needed to diagnose a brain injury, although other tools are also used, including an MRI scan and the doctor’s assessment of the patient’s condition.
The patient will need to be in a hospital for a CT scan, and this can only be done by trained specialists (known as radiographers) – who will both administer the scan and report on its findings. These findings then need to be discussed with others in the medical team, for example a neurologist – to determine what needs to be done.
This process can take hours and sometimes days depending on the availability of the CT scanner. Precious time can be lost for a patient suffering from a brain injury whilst they’re waiting to be diagnosed. Anything which would speed up the system will assist both patients and doctors alike.
TBIcheck – the device speeding up diagnosis of traumatic brain injuries
The TBIcheck is a small, handheld tool which only needs a single drop of the patient’s blood to work.
It is pictured below:
Scientists have found that when the head suffers trauma, damaged brain cells release proteins, which means there are more of these proteins in the patient’s blood. One of these indicators is H-FABP (Heart-type fatty acid binding protein), which is already thought to be a marker for identifying cardiac issues in patients.
TBIcheck works by analysing a drop of blood to consider the patient’s levels of H-FABP. If these exceed 2.5 nanograms per milliliter, the patient is advised to go to hospital for a CT scan – as they are likely to be suffering from a brain injury. If the reading is below 2.5 nanograms per millilitre, then the advice given is that the patient will not need any further follow-up.
If there are any concerns about how to interpret the result, the scientists have also developed the Cube Reader, which can be installed on the device. Similar to some pregnancy tests, it will say either “positive” or “negative” and can send this result to the patient’s smartphone using Bluetooth. In the event that the patient has a carer, the results can also be sent to their phone directly.
How accurate is the TBIcheck device?
Jean-Charles Sanchez, professor at the Department of Internal Medicine of Specialties and the Biomarkers Centre of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva, has noted that scientists are looking to further improve their invention’s accuracy, saying:
“Today, our research shows that the results are even more accurate when we combine H-FABP and GFAP levels. We are currently preparing an even more effective TBIcheck, which will allow 50% of patients to be sent home, but which requires an increase in the sensitivity of the test that receives the blood.”
Whilst the TBICheck is yet to be tested in medical settings, it is clear that another more accurate upgrade to the device is already on its way which can only be welcomed.
What is the impact of this technological development?
This break-through may have a significant effect on:
- The speed of obtaining an ‘on the spot’ diagnosis, especially when it’s most needed. This may be particularly relevant for athletes who are injured and need to be assessed quickly on a sports field for any serious injuries. Or, in helping hospitals prioritise which patients need to undergo CT scans first.
- Helping cut down hospital waiting lists. According to brain injury charity Headway, “around one million people visit A&E each year following a head injury. While the majority of these people will experience no lasting effects, many others will be left with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can have devastating and lifelong effects.” This device could help triage stations determine whether a patient needs further medical attention or whether they can safely return home.
- Providing access to knowledge. A traumatic brain injury does not discriminate and can occur at any time, in any place. If you are a hiker in a remote mountain region, this device could help to establish whether there is a need to go to hospital or you are okay to carry on. This also gives reassurance for those looking after others.
Having said this, there are some important legal concerns that have to be considered:
- The accuracy of the device will need to be verified and approved, by the healthcare system in the country that the patient is in. In the worst case scenario, the device could provide a false reassuring result to a patient with a brain injury – meaning they don’t seek further medical intervention. This could lead to a delay in their condition being diagnosed and leave them prone to further injury.
- In the event that something goes wrong, will the patient have any recourse to legal action against the manufacturer?
- Issues relating to how consent is provided for use of the device on those who may not be able to understand or be aware of the test, for example, children and/or people who are temporarily unconscious.
This advancement is, without a doubt, exciting and looks to open the doors to quicker and more accessible information for those who may be injured. It could potentially change the way that doctors are able to deal with diagnosing and treating patients. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how this invention progresses.
Suzanne Trask is a solicitor, the head of the Adult Brain Injury team and a partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp. If you or a loved one is concerned about the treatment you have received, contact Suzanne free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4834 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Adult Brain Injury team will contact you. Find out more about the Adult Brain Injury team.