BMS Faculty Member Finds that Urine Analysis Could Speed Diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury

Friday, September 13, 2019

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Purdue Veterinary Medicine Professor Riyi Shi, who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences and the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, led a research team to discover a new, noninvasive procedure to quickly identify brain trauma and expedite treatment.

A team of scientists led by Dr. Riyi Shi, Purdue Veterinary Medicine professor of basic medical sciences, has conducted research indicating that soldiers and athletes could have improved outcomes from traumatic brain injury through faster diagnosis using urine analysis.  The researchers also report that early detection and treatment can help in cases involving even a mild hit or blast to the brain.

A traumatic brain injury is often easily suspected and can be confirmed and treated if necessary following an injury using a blood analysis.  But the research by Dr. Shi’s team found that even one mild blast to the brain can cause very subtle but permanent damage, and urine analysis taken within one week of a mild to traumatic brain injury can provide faster diagnosis and treatment for such injuries.

“We’re finding that even a mild blast can cause long-term, life-changing health issues,” said Dr. Shi. “The individual appears to be fine, and it’s difficult to tell if you just look at a person. But the fact is that these types of hits are multiplied over years and often ignored until someone reaches an age when other factors come into play. Identifying and treating these incidents sooner can help mitigate issues later in life.”

The study led by Dr. Shi reports that checking the urine within seven days following such an injury, even a mild injury with no immediately obvious symptoms, could be less invasive, faster, and help reduce the risk of long-term health issues including Parkinson’s disease.  “Even at one day post-injury, a simple urine analysis can reveal elevations in the neurotoxin acrolein. The presence of this ‘biomarker’ alerts us to the injury, creating an opportunity for intervention,” said Dr. Shi, who holds a joint appointment in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. “This early detection and subsequent treatment window could offer tremendous benefits for long-term patient neurological health.”

The research paper, titled “Acrolein-mediated Alpha-synuclein Pathology Involvement in the Early Post-injury Pathogenesis of Mild Blast-induced Parkinsonian Neurodegeneration,” was published in July in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience.

“Most people have heard that traumatic brain injuries are linked to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases, dating back as far as to Muhammad Ali and even earlier,” Dr. Shi said. “The seriousness of this relationship is readily apparent; however, we want to, for the first time, implement a mechanism or protocol capable of connecting brain injuries to these diseases. We can accomplish this by testing for acrolein, which is well-researched and already recognized as a very important pathological factor in Parkinson’s disease. This study establishes a solid link between the two and opens the door for faster treatments utilizing acrolein urine tests during the days following a traumatic episode.”

In the research study, a urine analysis tested for an increased elevation of acrolein or oxidative stress within one week following a neurological injury.  “What’s important is that urine tests can be performed much easier than blood tests, or other more invasive medical procedures currently available,” Dr. Shi said. “And it has been shown that individuals who experience brain injuries are three times more likely than their age-matched peers to develop neurological disease. If we can establish a protocol to routinely test urine following a traumatic brain injury, we can improve treatment options earlier and potentially offer better long-term outcomes.”

More than 500,000 people in the U.S. are currently living with Parkinson’s disease, and another 50,000 people are diagnosed with this neurodegenerative disorder every year, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Click here to view a video about the link between acrolein and Parkinson’s disease based on Dr. Shi’s research.

The research was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, the Indiana State Department of Health, and the Indiana CTSI Collaboration in Biomedical Translational Research Pilot Program.

Dr. Shi’s work aligns with Purdue’s Giant Leaps celebration, acknowledging the University’s global advancements in health as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. This is one of the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.

Click here to view a complete news release about the research.

Writer(s): Cynthia Sequin, PRF, and Kevin Doerr |

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