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Invisible Injury

Gary Ascani
Banyan Biomakers is working with three hand-held device makers to produce instruments to test blood for traumatic brain injury, says CEO Gary Ascani. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

If there’s no external damage to a patient’s head or other obvious symptoms, physicians often can’t quickly determine whether an auto accident, explosion or other trauma has caused brain damage — delaying medical response and sometimes producing a more long-lasting injury.

Scientists understand the mechanism of brain damage: Trauma activates two enzymes that break down essential proteins in brain cells. Building on that knowledge, three University of Florida researchers, Ronald Hayes, Kevin Wang and Nancy Denslow, identified a number of biomarkers, or proteins, in the blood whose presence indicates a brain injury. They’ve formed a company in Alachua, Banyan Biomarkers, that has developed antibodies that can detect those proteins.

The company currently is doing the final analysis on the three top biomarkers, says Gary Ascani, Banyan’s president and CEO.

The U.S. Department of Defense, seeking a device for medics that will enable them to quickly identify brain injuries on the battlefield, has supplied $11 million in research funding to Banyan. The company is working with three handheld device makers, all of which also are vying for Defense Department funding, to develop instruments to test blood for a number of medical conditions, including brain injury.

Ascani says Banyan isn’t aligning itself with one particular company. “We are going to be a supplier of the purified antibodies,” he explains.

Ascani hopes to finish clinical studies and submit Banyan’s product for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval this year. He’s likely to begin marketing in Europe, where the regulatory process is shorter, in 2009. “Our goal,” he says, “is to get to market penetration quickly.”

BrainRay The Stakes

More than 1.4 million people suffer annually from traumatic brain injury, which causes 50,000 deaths and more than 80,000 permanent disabilities. Brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability in young adults, according to a 1998 report from the General Accountability Office.