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Researchers: Biosensor Could Prevent Brain Injury During Surgery

Engineers and cardiology researchers at Johns Hopkins University have designed a new biosensor that could help prevent serious brain injuries during heart surgery. The new device is still in development, but the researchers found that a prototype of the biosensor was successfully able to detect a protein associated with brain injury and alert surgeons to the problem.

Cardiac surgery is risky. Even under the best circumstances, the procedure may be unsuccessful or even leave the patient with new or additional problems. Poor surgical outcomes don’t necessarily indicate medical malpractice. However, this device could also help reduce brain injuries caused by surgical error or by failure to properly screen patients for risk factors such as hypertension.

The new biosensor is only about the size of a coin, three eighths-of-an-inch on each side. Amazingly, materials scientists used a thin layer of organic film as a transistor to create it.

Unfortunately, both adults and children may be at risk for brain injuries during cardiac surgery, but the surgery is often a matter of life or death. Researchers had known before that the presence of a protein called glial fibrillary acidic protein in the body is linked to brain injuries.

Even when no surgical error occurs, many patients are at risk for strokes triggered by a number of events during heart surgery and recovery, when the brain is highly susceptible to damage — especially in children. In the case of a child, the damage can lead to long-term problems in areas such as motor skills, speech and overall mental development.

Yet today, doctors must wait at least until after surgery and sometimes as long as years for symptoms of a post-surgical brain injury to become apparent. Finding a way to detect a brain injury as soon as possible — ideally during the surgery itself — would give crucial time to take action to avert or lessen the damage.

The researchers also hope that the device could someday be modified to detect brain injuries in situations outside the operating room, such as after car accidents or sports injuries.

The research was published in the October issue of the journal Chemical Science.

Source: Laboratory Equipment magazine, “Biosensor Can Make Heart Surgery Safer for Brain,” Johns Hopkins University press release, Nov. 12, 2013