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Technologies for diagnosing brain injuries

Posted Jan 10 2011 11:52am

During a traumatic brain injury, the foremost challenge in front of the doctors is to stabilize the patient and assess the injury. Identifying the type and damage level of the injury decides whether the patient will survive or not. After the initial diagnosis, the doctors proceed to perform advanced diagnostic tests to properly identify the patient’s condition. This is where technologies to diagnose brain injuries come into play.

While diagnosing brain injuries, doctors search vital signs such as visible external injuries and breathing patterns. In case of severe traumatic brain injury, technologically advanced equipments may be used. This can include X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans. Furthermore, doctors can also perform neurological scans.

The following technologies are the most advanced brain injury detecting methods and equipments currently available.

Computerized Tomography (CT Scans)

This can be called a brain’s X-ray. In this machine, images of the brain are captured from various angles to identify any structural abnormalities. CT scans are done through a computer that produces images of brain and also to perform numerical calculations. The brain images appear in the form of brain cross-sections. In CT scans, white regions refer to the denser parts of the brain. These scans can also reveal the swelling resulting from tissue damage.

Advances in healthcare technology have created a new breed of CT scan machines. These machines have to ability to quickly process the information and present it on the screen. Today, we have 256 slice high-speed CT scan machines capable of saving lives within minutes of accidents.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

MRI technology was created while conducting research into the field of nuclear magnetic resonance. An MRI scanner creates a powerful magnetic field causing large hydrogen nuclei present inside the body to line-up in a particular way. Further, this alignment is disturbed using radio wave pulses. The rotating magnetic fields thus produced are used to create pictures of brain. The images obtained from a MRI scanner are highly detailed and reveal tissue level damage, if any.

Diffusion Tensor

This is a sub-form MRI scans. Better known as DTI, this creates images of the neurons present inside the brain. These neurons are used to connect the parts in the brain through water movements. These scans are better in emergency situations. For example, when a brain tissue has an inner fibrous structure present in it that is similar to the crystal anisotropy, this technology is used to detect such a problem.

Electroencephalography (EEG)

This technology is actually used to detect the brain’s activity levels. Using this, electrically active regions inside the brain can be identified. Sensors are used to detect any sensitive regions on the brain. However, this technology is hardly used in emergency conditions and is mainly employed in coma conditions.

Pharmacological functional MRI

When brain injury drugs have been given to a patient, the diagnosis takes a whole new approach. Doctors have to consistently monitor how the drugs are performing real time. Using advanced MRI technology, doctors can see how drugs are performing and create follow up reports. This helps gauge the recovery status of the patient and properly dispense future prescription.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

In this technology, certain regions inside the brain are stimulated so as to trigger a pre-defined behavior. The technique creates depolarization in the brain’s neurons using electromagnetic induction. The technology is non-invasive and causes minimal discomfort to the patient. During an injury, this technique is used to study how the brain is performing and whether interconnections are working or not.

Biomarker Assays

Presently, the healthcare medical community has some major lag to cover in overall traumatic brain injury management. The challenge in the form of neurological disorders is a major one. Consequently, there is a need to search for biomarkers in association with early neuro-pathological events. Although, no perfect bio-marker has yet been discovered, there are few in the development stage.

The following criteria define a perfect biomarker:

  • Reflect the pathology of brain damage.
  • During a TBI, it should appear early in biological fluids.
  • Associate with neuro-imaging data and neurological scores
  • Predict the TBI sequel outcome
  • Allow post-treatment/follow-up and correction in medication

So far, research has been conducted to identify differences in content of biomarker serum/plasma collected from traumatic brain injury patients. This approach has provided a broad range of biomarkers having the ability to be associated with some pathological profile. There are some limitations as well, such as the requisite length of the procedures is fairly long and the diseases are sometimes cross-reactive.

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