Proper rehabilitation is required after a traumatic brain or spinal cord injury to promote long-term functional recovery. However, there is no single, diagnostic tool that indicates the severity of brain or spinal cord damage. Master of Science candidate Elani Bykowski aims to utilize nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy as a more efficient, and cost-effective alternative to computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for diagnosing brain and spinal cord injury.
Elani is exploring the field of metabolomics, the study of metabolism products, and applying NMR spectroscopy techniques to identify specific products associated with metabolic pathways that are activated following a brain or spinal cord injury. She states that these products represent a snapshot of the metabolic response to an injury that can be used as a proxy measure to predict each patient’s injury severity and potential recovery outcomes. Studying the associated metabolic pathways informs type and severity of the injury to better match an individual to the optimal rehabilitation treatment.
The best part about this diagnostic method is its relatively non-invasive nature as it requires a sample of bio-fluid, such as blood or urine, to perform. These biofluids can be easily and quickly obtained from a patient to reduce the delay between diagnosis and treatment, thus improving the patient’s recovery outcomes.
With aid from her supervisors Dr. Gerlinde Metz and Tony Montina, Elani’s graduate research is well underway and has yielded exciting preliminary results. She has identified the presence of urine-based biomarkers that correlate to the recovery outcomes of spinal cord injured patients- a discovery that Elani intends to build upon to develop this diagnostic tool to identify specific biomarkers for brain and spinal injury, and further examine its ability to predict recovery outcomes.