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Monitoring Brain Cell Death in Brain Injury

Test Bed Vision:

“To develop a point-of-care diagnostic device by measuring cell-free DNA from dying neurons associated with traumatic brain injury”

It is difficult to diagnose mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) using conventional CT and MRI scanning. There is an overwhelming clinical need for a rapid in improve diagnoses and guide treatment, particularly for diffuse injury associated with mild-TBI. If the DNA from small quantities of dying neurons can be detected in blood then this might provide a sensitive and accurate biomarker for diagnostic and treatment purposes.

Dying cells release DNA into the peripheral blood. This circulating cell-free DNA is rapidly cleared, so the quantity of cell-free DNA in the blood is directly proportional to the amount of recent cell death. Very recent research has shown it is possible to measure which tissues the DNA arose from using the epigenetic DNA methylation marks present on the DNA.

This novel research program will aim to identify bioinformatically DNA methylation signatures that are exclusively associated with DNA from brain tissue and no other tissue. It will use this knowledge to develop assays to measure the levels of cell-free DNA from dying neurons resulting from a traumatic brain injury and develop a point-of-care clinical blood test to rapidly diagnose and monitor traumatic brain injuries in a hospital setting.

This test bed is led by Jason Ross from CSIRO’s Health and Biosecurity.