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Eye-Safe Laser Technology to Transform Traumatic Brain Injury Diagnosis

Eye-Safe Laser Technology to Transform Traumatic Brain Injury Diagnosis

December 07, 2023

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have unveiled an innovative diagnostic device designed to swiftly detect traumatic brain injury (TBI) by using a safe laser directed into the eye.

Described in the journal Science Advances, the groundbreaking technique distinguishes itself from conventional diagnostic methods and is poised to evolve into a portable, handheld device for use during the critical 'golden hour' following a traumatic brain injury when prompt treatment decisions are imperative.

The device integrates a class 1, CE marked, eye-safe laser and a unique Raman spectroscopy system, which utilizes light to unveil the biochemical and structural properties of molecules, thereby identifying known biomarkers for brain injury.

Traumatic brain injury stands as a leading global cause of death, emphasizing the urgent need for timely and accurate diagnostic technologies. The new device, spearheaded by Professor Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer from the School of Chemical Engineering, is fast, precise, and non-invasive, providing crucial information on the severity of trauma.

Unlike conventional radiological investigations such as X-rays or MRIs, which are both expensive and slow to yield results, this handheld device offers on-the-spot assessment, making it suitable for use at the scene of an incident, on the battlefield, or on sports pitches.

Professor Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer underscores the critical importance of early TBI diagnosis, emphasizing that the current diagnostic procedures often rely on ambulance crews' observations and subsequent hospital-based scans, which may not be immediately accessible.

The device scans the back of the eye, where the optic nerve resides, closely connected to the brain and carrying biological information in the form of protein and lipid biomarkers. Changes in these biomarkers indicate TBI, and the device's ability to accurately detect such changes has been demonstrated in animal brain and eye tissues.

The research outlines the development and optimization of a proof-of-concept prototype, testing alignment using a phantom eye, discerning between TBI and non-TBI states with animal tissue, and incorporating AI-driven decision support tools.

The device is now poised for further evaluation, including clinical feasibility and efficacy studies, with the researchers envisioning its evolution into a portable technology capable of rapidly determining the occurrence and severity of TBI, directing triage appropriately in a timely manner. This breakthrough promises to revolutionize on-site TBI assessment, bringing about a paradigm shift in the approach to these critical injuries.


Carl Banbury et al, Window into the mind: Advanced handheld spectroscopic eye-safe technology for point-of-care neurodiagnostic, Science Advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adg5431