Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Biosensor Could Help Detect Brain Injuries During Heart Surgery

Johns Hopkins engineers and cardiology experts have teamed up to develop a fingernail-sized biosensor that could alert doctors when serious brain injury occurs during heart surgery. By doing so, the device could help doctors devise new ways to minimize brain damage or begin treatment more quickly.

In the Nov. 11 issue of the journal Chemical Science, the team reported on lab tests demonstrating that the prototype sensor had successfully detected a protein associated with brain injuries.

In lab tests, this small biosensor detected a protein associated with brain injuries. Photo by Weiguo Huang.

In lab tests, this small biosensor detected a protein associated with brain injuries. Photo by Weiguo Huang.

“Ideally, the testing would happen while the surgery is going on, by placing just a drop of the patient’s blood on the sensor, which could activate a sound, light or numeric display if the protein is present,” said the study’s senior author, Howard E. Katz, a Whiting School of Engineering expert in organic thin film transistors, which form the basis of the biosensor.

The project originated about two years ago when Katz, who chairs the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, was contacted by Allen D. Everett, a Johns Hopkins Children’s Center pediatric cardiologist who studies biomarkers linked to pulmonary hypertension and brain injury. As brain injury can occur with heart surgery in both adults and children, the biosensor Everett proposed should work on patients of all ages. He is particularly concerned, however, about operating room injuries to children, whose brains are still developing.

“Many of our young patients need one or more heart surgeries to correct congenital heart defects, and the first of these procedures often occurs at birth,” Everett said. “We take care of these children through adulthood, and we have all have seen the neurodevelopment problems that occur as a consequence of their surgery and post-operative care. These are very sick children, and we have done a brilliant job of improving overall survival from congenital heart surgery, but we have far to go to improve the long-term outcomes of our patients. This is our biggest challenge for the 21st century.”

He said that recent studies found that after heart surgery, about 40 percent of infant patients will have brain abnormalities that show up in MRI scans. The damage is most often caused by strokes, which can be triggered and made worse by multiple events during surgery and recovery, when the brain is most susceptible to injury. These brain injuries can lead to deficiencies in the child’s mental development and motor skills, as well as hyperactivity and speech delay.

To address these problems, Everett sought an engineer to design a biosensor that responds to glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), which is a biomarker linked to brain injuries. “If we can be alerted when the injury is occurring,” he said, “then we should be able to develop better therapies. We could improve our control of blood pressure or redesign our cardiopulmonary bypass machines. We could learn how to optimize cooling and rewarming procedures and have a benchmark for developing and testing new protective medications.”

At present, Everett said, doctors have to wait years for some brain injury-related symptoms to appear. That slows down the process of finding out whether new procedures or treatments to reduce brain injuries are effective. The new device may change that. “The sensor platform is very rapid,” Everett said. “It’s practically instantaneous.”

To create this sensor, materials scientist Katz turned to an organic thin film transistor design. In recent years sensors built on such platforms have shown that they can detect gases and chemicals associated with explosives. These transistors were an attractive choice for Everett’s request because of their potential low cost, low power consumption, biocompatibility and their ability to detect a variety of biomolecules in real time. Futhermore, the architecture of these transistors could accommodate a wide variety of other useful electronic materials.

The sensing area is a small square, 3/8ths-of-an-inch on each side. On the surface of the sensor is a layer of antibodies that attract GFAP, the target protein. When this occurs, it changes the physics of other material layers within the sensor, altering the amount of electrical current that is passing through the device. These electrical changes can be monitored, enabling the user to know when GFAP is present.

“This sensor proved to be extremely sensitive,” Katz said. “It recognized GFAP even when there were many other protein molecules nearby. As far as we’ve been able to determine, this is the most sensitive protein detector based on organic thin film transistors.”

Through the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer Office, the team members have filed for full patent protection for the new biosensor. Katz said the team is looking for industry collaborators to conduct further research and development of the device, which has not yet been tested on human patients. But with the right level of effort and support, Katz believes the device could be put into clinical use within five years. “I’m getting tremendous personal satisfaction from working on a major medical project that could help patients,” he said.

Everett, the pediatric cardiologist, said the biosensor could eventually be used outside of the operating room to quickly detect brain injuries among athletes and accident victims. “It could evolve into a point-of-care or point-of-injury device,” he said. “It might also be very useful in hospital emergency departments to screen patients for brain injuries.”

The lead author of the Chemical Science paper was Weiguo Huang, a postdoctoral fellow in Katz’s lab. Along with Everett and Katz, the co-authors, all from the Whiting School of Engineering and the School of Medicine, were Kalpana Besar, Rachel LeCover, Pratima Dulloor, Jasmine Sinha, Josue F. Martinez Hardigree, Christian Pick, Julia Swavola, Joelle Frechette and Michael Bevan.

Funding for the sensing project was provided by the Cove Point Foundation and the Johns Hopkins Environment, Energy, Sustainability and Health Institute. Fundamental materials characterization was funded by the U.S. Department of Engery Grant Number DE-FG02-07ER46465.

Color photo of the biosensor available; contact Phil Sneiderman.

Johns Hopkins University news releases can be found online at Information on automatic email delivery of science and medical news releases is available at the same address

November 11, 2013 Tags: biosensor, brain injury, cardiology, heart surgery, materials science

Posted in Engineering, Medicine and Nursing, Technology

Office of Communications
Johns Hopkins University
3910 Keswick Road, Suite N2600
Baltimore, Maryland 21211
Phone: 443-997-9009 | Fax: 443 997-1006

Phil Sneiderman | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Medical Engineering:

nachricht Münster researchers make a fly’s heartbeat visible / Software automatically recognizes pulse
12.03.2018 | Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

nachricht 3-D-written model to provide better understanding of cancer spread
05.03.2018 | Purdue University

All articles from Medical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>