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#15 Detecting brain injuries in no time with this WUR student team's biosensor

Every year, it is estimated that around 50 million people are affected by traumatic brain injury. They end up in the emergency room or hospital, but often little is known about the severity of the situation by then. Student team SenseWURk'23 is developing a sensor that quickly and accurately detects brain injuries. "A small drop of blood is enough," says team captain Sifre van Teeffelen.

A traffic accident, an accident on the sports field: unfortunately, many people suffer a concussion or other brain injury at least once in their lifetime. Currently, MRI and CT scans and neurological tests are the standard methods to diagnose this. However, these are costly and also not sensitive enough to detect milder forms of injury.

Yet early and accurate detection is crucial for treatment and optimal recovery of patients. That is why student team SenseWURk' 23, from Wageningen University & Research, is currently busy developing an innovative biosensor that can detect whether brain damage is present, and to what extent, based on just a small drop of blood.   

SensUs Student competition

The students are developing the sensor as part of the International SensUs Student Competition, in which some 20 universities from around the world participate every year. The aim of the competition: to develop new biosensors that advance healthcare. This year, the chosen biomarker (protein) is GFAP, which is a marker for traumatic brain injury.

Microfluidic chip

Van Teeffelen, master's student in Molecular Life Sciences at WUR, explains how it works. "We develop a kind of microfluidic chip. A sample goes through that. In this case, a drop of blood. On the chip itself are GFAP antibodies that 'pick up' the biomarker. Later, fluorescent antibodies are added. This makes it visible whether there is injury." Such a chip an sich is nothing new, Van Teeffelen explains, but the group of students attached a pump to the chip that pumps the sample back and forth. "This gives the biomarker multiple chances to bind to the antibodies. And so you could detect lower concentrations of the protein in the blood."

The team currently has its hands full with testing in the lab to optimise the sensor. "At the beginning, it was a bit difficult," admits Van Teeffelen. "We didn't know exactly how to start, the device we used to place the antibodies was leaking, things like that. But everything seems to be working now. With a tight plan and the help of professors, we should be able to make the sensor a success."

Legion of applications

The student team is convinced that the sensor will come in handy in many areas of society. "First, it would be ideal to be able to establish a diagnosis at a patient's bedside within minutes, based on just a drop of blood. For small children, for example, MRI or CT scans are quite intense. For them, this would be a godsend. We talked to a neurologist about our solution and he too told us that there is a real need for it. Especially because this way, before they even arrive at the hospital, it could be determined whether they need a scan after all, need to be admitted to the ICU and so on. This could save a lot of healthcare costs."

And more applications are possible, Van Teeffelen continues. "Think of sports clubs, for example. Our test can quickly reveal during an accident on the football pitch whether a footballer can safely continue playing yes or no. Ideal, after all, there are no neurologists running around on the pitch to help the footballers."


In August, it will be announced which student team will emerge as the winner. Then, all teams will be given different types of samples to test. The teams will eventually be judged on analytical ability, social outreach and profitability, among other things. Whether SenseWURk'23 has a chance of falling in the prizes? "Well and truly! We are highly motivated and have already come a long way. Last year's WUR student team came second in the analytical ability category. Now just hope we surpass that."