It may be possible to use a blood-biomarker test to rapidly detect nervous system damage, allowing earlier patient treatment, according to research published this week in the online edition of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.
The method works through the detection of the protein NF-H, which is "a major structural protein of axons," said Gerry Shaw, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Florida McKnight Brain Institute. "When you damage axons, [NF-H] gets released the key thing about it is that it's actually a very stable protein as well, so it's fairly easy to detect it using ELISA and other kinds of techniques," he said.
Shaw's company, Encor Biotechnology, is negotiating with companies such as Chemicon to market a research kit for detecting the protein, he said.
Until more effective drugs are developed, the biomarker will probably prove most useful to drug makers, Shaw said. The protein "is usable by drug companies to screen for drugs and other treatments that ameliorate" nervous system damage, he said.
Drugs exist to treat early brain and spinal cord injury, but they are not yet terribly effective, said Shaw. "That's what we're thinking in the future, if there are more effective drugs, you'll be able to figure out who needs what drug," he said.
NF-H concentration in the blood peaks twice after nervous system damage; once immediately after injury, and again two to three days later, said Shaw. "That's the secondary neuronal death, and that's the kind of death that drugs [potentially] can do something about," he said.
Some of the possible treatments for nervous system damage may inhibit apoptosis or intervene in growth factor pathways to keep neurons alive, Shaw said.
With current technology, the early discovery of nervous system damage may tell first responders which patient is most in need of help. In a battlefield triage situation, "if you have three soldiers, and one of them has got serious amounts of this protein being released into the blood, and the other two haven't, if there's a problem getting them into the emergency room, you know which two to take first," said Shaw.
In rat research, more NF-H is released by spinal cord injury than brain injury, since the spine is essentially a huge bundle of axons, "although we still did get measurable amounts of brain injury," said Shaw.
Chris Womack ([email protected])