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NICHD to Fund Search for Protein Biomarkers for Chronic Brain Injury

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health will award $1.5 million for research to find protein biomarkers that could be used to identify and treat chronic brain injuries (CBI), the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said yesterday it will fund one or two studies next year that will show how the presence of protein biomarkers are related to brain structure or neurological function in CBI patients.

NICHD wants these studies to identify markers that would serve as anatomical evidence for the changes in neurological, cognitive, and emotional status that is seen years after brain traumas.

The long-term goal would be to use these biomarkers and related tools to develop ways to predict which patients may develop CBI, how it will progress, how it may best be treated, whether patients may recover or decline, and to enable more research into assessing and treating it.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a lead cause of epilepsy, and increases risk for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, ALS, and others, NICHD said.

Although TBIs are thought to have temporary effects, repeated mild TBIs that occur over a long period of time cause neurological and cognitive deficits. Blood-based biomarkers to assess the deterioration, stability, or improvement of the changes in the brain these injuries cause would make it easier to both research and treat CBI, and would facilitate clinical trials and interventions for CBI, NICHD said.

Several blood-based biomarkers have been linked with TBI in published reports, such as tau, amyloids, myelin basic protein, ubiquitin, and others. There is also is an interest in peripheral blood mononuclear and microRNAs, inflammatory response molecules, and the use of gene arrays to analyze markers.

Most of the research done in this area so far, however, has focused on the period just hours or days after an injury has occurred, in the acute stages, and CBI now requires similar attention, NICHD said. A better understanding of the chronic stages of brain injury would make it possible to start interventions as soon as possible for patients who are at risk of mental or physical deterioration, and biomarkers to measure such long-term changes could lead to better outcomes, new drugs, devices, or rehabilitation therapies.

The research projects NICHD plans to fund may focus on the pattern of brain-specific proteins and their levels in blood from CBI patients; confirm the utility or specificity of blood-based protein markers through comparative studies; study and validate new tools such as gene arrays or other expression-based platforms for discovering new CBI biomarkers; and develop new methods for discovering and validating other types of markers for CBI using genome-wide association studies, lipid profiles, and microRNA analysis.

NICHD plans to fund one or two of these projects in 2015.