Nikolaos Kyritsis, Brain and Spinal Injury Center, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, United States

Discovering blood RNA biomarkers for diagnosis of SCI severity and/or prognosis of neurological recovery

Funded in: 2018, 2019, 2020


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Problem: Lack of fluid biomarkers that can be utilized i) towards assessing the initial severity of the injury  ii) for predicting the long-term neurological recovery of the patient

Target:  The changed “molecular signature” of the immune cells at different time points after SC

Goal: To discover RNA molecules in the immune cells which can be used for diagnosing the initial severity of the injury and/or predicting the recovery potential of the patients 

 

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a devastating condition that dramatically alters the lives of the patients who suffer from it. Although the first diagnosis of SCI occurred more than 4,000 years ago, there is still no efficient treatment for people suffering from SCI. In addition, the field of SCI research lacks fluid biomarkers that can be utilized i) towards assessing the initial severity of the injury, a major factor in determining the downstream course of action, and/or ii) for predicting the long-term neurological recovery of the patient.

A possible explanation for the lack of SCI biomarkers is that the research approach was always limited to preformed hypotheses about the involvement of certain molecules in the injury and their subsequent leakage into the patients’ biofluids. An alternative, unbiased and high throughput experimental approach offers the greatest possibility in filling that gap and discover fluid biomarkers in SCI with prognostic and diagnostic value. To this end, we will utilize a broader, genomic approach (RNAseq) in white blood cells (WBCs) from SCI patients. Our hypothesis is that upon SCI the molecules entering to the blood stream from the spinal cord activate the immune cells which in response change their transcriptomic status. With our approach we seek to capture the “molecular signature” of the immune cells at different time points after SCI and with the use of advanced bioinformatics tools to correlate it with the severity of the injury as well as the long-term recovery of the patients.

At the end of our study we expect to discover RNA molecules in the immune cells the concentration of which after SCI can be used for diagnosing rapidly and efficiently the initial severity of the injury and/or predicting the recovery potential of the patients.