TGen Spotlight: New Study Tackles Sports-Related Concussions

October 16, 2017 | by City of Hope

Kendall Van Keuren-Jensen | City of Hope Kendall Van Keuren-Jensen, Ph.D.
Following a three-year study of the Arizona State University football program, researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), an affiliate of City of Hope, have created the largest known dataset of extracellular small RNAs, which could help future studies determine potential biomarkers for diagnosing medical conditions, including concussions.
The study amassed a collection of samples from the ASU student-athletes’ biofluids: blood, urine and saliva. A portion of that information is being analyzed along with data from Riddell helmet sensors that recorded the number, intensity and direction of head impacts during games and practices from the 2013-16 football teams. 
“Large datasets — examining different biofluids, isolation methods, detection platforms and analysis tools — are important to further our understanding of the extent and types of extracellular materials present when someone is injured or develops disease,” said Kendall Van Keuren-Jensen, Ph.D., TGen associate professor of neurogenomics and co-director of TGen’s Center for Noninvasive Diagnostics, and one of the study’s senior authors.
Details of the dataset were published earlier this year in Scientific Reports, an online open-access journal of the Nature Publishing Group. Because the data is being published in an open-access journal, they are available to aid other researchers studying how to help develop tests for the detection and extent of injuries involving everything from automobile accidents to battlefield explosions. 
TGen researchers used advanced genomic sequencing to examine extracellular RNA (exRNA), strands of genetic material that are released from cells, and which can be detected in biofluids. TGen sequenced, or spelled out, the chemical letters that make up these biomarkers from among 183 blood samples, 204 urine samples and 46 saliva samples derived from 55 consenting student-athletes, ages 18-25.
“The small RNA profile of each biofluid is distinct,” the study said. “These data significantly contribute to the current number of sequenced exRNA samples from young healthy individuals.”   
By identifying biofluids associated with healthy individuals, researchers hope to use these as standards for assessing disease and injury. 
“Establishing a baseline for individuals when they are healthy may provide the most meaningful comparisons when exploring early indicators of disease, severity or outcome,” the study said.
“These data will help inform us about how best to develop additional tools to enrich and capture specific types of information,” according to the paper, titled: “Total Extracellular Small RNA Profiles from Plasma, Saliva, and Urine of Healthy Subjects.” 
“We have tried to provide the most comprehensive profile of the small RNA species detected in our samples,” said Matt Huentelman, Ph.D., TGen Professor of Neurogenomics, and one of the study’s lead authors. “This information may prove to be essential as the field moves toward using RNA expression changes for the detection of health, disease and injury.”
This study was supported by Riddell Inc., grants from the Flinn Foundation, and individual contributions to the TGen Foundation from Ken and Randy Kendrick, and from Bob and Karen Hobbs.
Also contributing to this study were ASU Sports Medicine, Barrow Neurological Institute, Yale University and A.T. Still University.
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