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From left to right: Mélanie Stäuble (Master student), Denis Prim (Diagnostic Systems laboratory manager), David Tagan, Marc Pignat, Marc Pfeifer (Diagnostic Systems research group manager), Isaline Torche (Bachelor student), Steve Gallay (Microelectronics laboratory manager), Milica Jovic.
Wednesday 14 June 2023 08:00

Axe Santé is an interdisciplinary center for the development of sustainable health technologies, which brings together all the research institutes of the HES-SO Valais-Wallis. We caught up with Denis Prim, Scientific Assistant at the Life Technologies Institute, to talk about the project he has been working on for several months: Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Point-of-Care Testing Platform.

Head trauma, a difficult diagnosis

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a little-known pathology, and its treatment is complex. The methods for detecting them, particularly mild head trauma, are few and far between, and not always effective. It is possible to undergo a simple examination by answering a few questions, and/or to undergo a CT scan. Sometimes, however, a mild trauma can have serious consequences, undetected by the medical profession, because the answers to the medical history did not point to an alarming situation. A CT or MRI scan of the head is costly, time-consuming for the medical staff and does not always provide an accurate diagnosis. Repeated mild head injuries, particularly suffered by sportsmen and women, can have serious long-term consequences, and are often not diagnosed, either because of deficiencies in the medical history, or because the injured person is unaware of the problem and therefore does not consult a doctor.

Less invasive detection thanks to biomarkers

To make the detection of mild head trauma safer, faster, and less costly, the project supported by the Axe Santé program proposes to measure three biomarkers in the blood. When shocked, the brain can release molecules via micro-lesions, which are then released into the bloodstream. The idea is to eventually be able to offer a compact, portable device that can detect these biomarkers and indicate whether a person has suffered even a mild head injury. This initial measure would enable sports coaches, paramedics, school nurses, first-aid doctors, emergency physicians or patrol officers, and all those who intervene in the first instance after an accident, to detect a potential head injury and take appropriate action. Everyday accidents that occur during field hockey games, skiing, soccer, or children's playtime are difficult to diagnose, and even minor impacts can be insidious, with serious consequences.

An inter-institute project to help patients and carers

Supported by a national BRIDGE project, the first phase of the project, carried out at the Haute Ecole d'Ingénierie and led by Professor Marc E. Pfeifer, involved developing and validating the strategy of the chosen approach, by testing it on existing instruments. It turned out that these systems had limitations, and that the desired level of performance could not be achieved. Denis Prim, head of the Systems Diagnostics Laboratory, and his colleagues, accompanied by specialists from the Institute of Systems Engineering, therefore set out to develop a demonstrator, a measuring instrument, to overcome these constraints. This device includes optical, mechanical, and electronic modules, as well as dedicated software. The rapid and effective support of the Health Axis has been an indispensable lever for the submission of a more substantial Innosuisse project, enabling us to work with partners in the field, notably hospitals, doctors and accident insurers. It is important to be able to move the measurement of this type of trauma away from central laboratories, to be closer to patients, while ensuring that the quality of diagnosis remains the same.

Denis Prim, a passionate and committed researcher

With a degree in engineering and many years of social, entrepreneurial, and scientific experience, Denis Prim says he is enthusiastic about the idea of helping to improve the daily lives of patients and carers. Funding from Axe Santé will enable him to collaborate actively with other research institutes to propose a device with significant utility and applicability. A specialist in bioanalytics, he admits that it would have been difficult to develop such a project without a group with complementary, cutting-edge knowledge ranging from electronics and mechanics to computer software development. Facilitating the work of carers and helping patients with less invasive, safer, and more accessible measurement tools are at the heart of his passion for science and applied research.

Publication : M. Jović, D. Prim et al, "A Novel Point-of-Care Diagnostic Prototype System for the Simultaneous Electrochemiluminescent Sensing of Multiple Traumatic Brain Injury Biomarkers," Sens. Diagn, May 2023, doi: 10.1039/D3SD00090G.

Photo : Credits © HES-SO Valais-Wallis, Laurent Darbellay. From left to right. Mélanie Stäuble (Master student), Denis Prim (Diagnostic Systems laboratory manager), David Tagan, Marc Pignat, Marc Pfeifer (Diagnostic Systems research group manager), Isaline Torche (Bachelor student), Steve Gallay (microelectronics laboratory manager), Milica Jovic.