The lab is overseen by Dr. Svetlana Dambinova, KSU’s Distinguished Professor of Health and Human Services. A former guest professor from Emory, Dr. Dambinova came to Kennesaw permanently in 2009.
In January, Kennesaw received a $2.38 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. The lab researchers are searching for a blood biomarker, or molecule, that would be an “early diagnosis of strokes and the consequences of neurotrauma,” according to Dambinova.
Dr. Dambinova’s research team includes Dr. Alex Shikuev, the coordinator for the Department of Defense Grant, Dr. Galina Izykenova, a neuroscientist, and Dr. Alexander Panov, a biochemist. Students working toward their doctorates will also assist with the blood work and tests that occur in the Biomarker Lab.
Two sets of researchers will conduct separate blind tests on blood samples and enter their findings into a database. A biostatistician will look at the clinical database to read the data and draw specific conclusions and finalize the results, Dr. Dambinova said. The work focuses on chemical reactions found in the brain after strokes or concussions, and to identify a blood test to diagnose these brain traumas.
Dr. Kerstin Bettermann, the co-principal investigator on the Department of Defense Grant and assistant professor of neurology at Penn State, has worked with Dr. Dambinova for five years. Dr. Bettermann said, “The biomarker will help us identify people at risk and optimize treatment. The goal is to identify mild traumatic brain injury, because there is no diagnostic test for mild traumatic brain injury.”
“The military is very interested in knowing that when the soldiers in combat come back, if they severely injured or not. There is a huge potential to identify the patient and get them to their treatment,” Bettermann said.
She also said that since their research and the machines used to diagnose traumatic brain injury are very expensive, very little similar research is being done around the world. “There would be a huge need to expand on this research. This is the first really important step,” she said. “Stroke is the second most common cause of disability and death in U.S. If you are in the country and have a stroke, good luck. MRI machines are often not available.”
Though the grant focuses on use for the battlefield, the research would also benefit athletes. The Biomarker lab is collaborating with the Sports Medicine Department and the athletes at Kennesaw, according to Dr. Izykenova.
There are everyday uses for the test as well. Dr. James Toole, a retired Wake Forest professor and former president of the International Stroke Society, is a consultant for the Department of Defense grant. He said, “If you can conduct a blood test, and not have to get an image of your head … then you have an alternative to an MRI, which could cost $5,000 compared to a blood test that will cost $25 to $50.”
Dr. Toole also points out the importance of the grants to a growing Southern school. “Science used to be “up north of the Mason-Dixon line,” he said.
Besides partnering with Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Dambinova is collaborating with Wellstar Health System, Piedmont Hospital, and the DeKalb Medical Center. Georgia Tech engineers are working on a portable device that could be used for the field testing, she said.
Dr. Papp, President of Kennesaw State, is excited to see the University “moving towards more external funding. Five years ago, we were only at the $2 million level in external funding for research. This year, we broke the $10 million mark, and have $17 million in new research grants,” he says.
Dr. Richard Sowell, Dean of Heath and Human Services, is grateful for the new facility and the research grants. He says that “the equipment here is as good or better than most of the hospitals in the area,” according to the people that delivered it. Sowell led the tour of the classroom, set up “just like a hospital,” that adjoins the Biomarker Lab, and will be used along with the research. “We’re really proud of what we’re doing here,” he said.
Dr. Dambinova’s research team has also applied for a $3.6 million grant from the National Institute of Health that would focus expressly on stroke research.