Researchers at the University of Illinois have discovered a gene that could play a vital role in predicting how someone recovers from a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
The study, conducted by UI Professor Aron Barbey who specializes in psychology and neuroscience, found that TBI patients who had a change in either their valine or methionine amino acids in the gene reacted differently to brain injuries.
The study showed that patients had different rates of recovery, and hence, performed differently on a battery of cognitive tests, depending on various combinations of valine or methionine amino acid. Basically, researchers found that patients with certain gene changes following a brain injury recovered at different rates.
The seriousness of brain injuries has been gaining more attention following news stories highlighting National Football League players and military members who have long term effects following brain injuries.
But, it’s not just these high profile occupations that suffer brain injuries. A minor fall, car accident, sporting incident, infection, tumor or stroke can cause a traumatic brain injury. In fact, nearly 60% of people treated at Mayo Clinic’s brain rehabilitation program suffered strokes.
Currently between 1.5 and 3.5 million Americans sustain a brain injury every year, with about 8% of them becoming permanently disabled from their injuries. Concussions account for about 85% of the injuries.
There are 3 levels of TBI depending on how long someone has been unconscious – mild which generally occurs from a concussion to severe which is generally from the penetration of an object:
- Mild – 0 to 30 minutes
- Moderate – 30 to 24 hours
- Severe – More than 24 hours
But researchers say that these classifications used since the 1970s are grossly outdated and don’t actually determine the course of treatment. It’s a challenge to treat TBI patients because there are so many types of TBI and they’re difficult to diagnose.
Through the research performed at UI, now being able to discover the combinations of valine or methionine amino acid will allow for an appropriate treatment to be tailored to a patient’s needs.
This knowledge will allow medical professionals to predict which kind of cognitive impairments a patient may have following a TBI, how long the impairments might last, and how long and to what extent the patients will recover over time.
In the future, patients with a TBI hopefully will be tested for the gene variant to guide the clinical therapy and specific treatment approach to tailor-make a specific treatment approach for each patient.
The findings also confirm the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to understanding TBI that incorporates neuroscience, psychology, molecular genetics and general medicine to understand how to treat each TBI patient.