A piezoelectrically actuated pipette system is used as an inexpensive means to detect biological molecules associated with specific diseases, infection or other medical conditions. (Credit: Purdue University)

Researchers have found a method of identifying biological markers in small amounts of blood that they believe could be used to detect diseases, infections, and medical conditions at early stages, including early detection of traumatic brain injury in athletes.

The microelectromechanical resonators, or small vibrating sensors, can detect these biomarkers using just a drop or two of blood. The plate-style resonant sensors allow sensitive, inexpensive detection of biomarkers that can signify disease, illness, or trauma.

The sensors use a piezoelectrically actuated resonant microsystem, which when driven by electricity can sense a change in mass. The sensitivity of the resonator increases as the resonant frequency increases, making high-frequency resonators excellent candidates for biomarker detection. The method also is much faster and less expensive than other types of medical tests.

The test can detect minute amounts of proteins, including protein from glial cells, which surround neurons in the brain. The proteins are secreted in relatively high concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid of victims of traumatic brain injury. Prior studies have found that a small amount of fluid leaked through the blood-brain barrier and got into the bloodstream of victims.

One of the first uses for the test could be the early detection of traumatic brain injury in athletes, particularly high school football and soccer players. The test also could be used for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The researchers are looking for licensees to use the test to search for other small amounts of protein that are early signs of disease.