Professor develops app to screen, diagnose brain condition

Infographics by Miranda Leung, Phone graphic courtesy of Facebook design resources
Infographic by Miranda Leung. Phone graphic courtesy of Facebook design resources

VCU has gained recognition for their research yet again — this time, in the form of a smartphone application.

VCU School of Medicine associate professor Jasmohan Bajaj developed the EncephalApp now available on iTunes and Google Play.

Physicians recently cleared the EncephalApp for use in diagnosing minimal hepatic encephalopathy (MHE), a common brain condition in people with liver cirrhosis caused by the accumulation of toxic substances in the bloodstream.

The condition impairs a patient’s quality of life and their ability to work and, over time, can lead to confusion and possible death.

“MHE is difficult to diagnose,” Bajaj said in a press release. “Specialized tests are needed to diagnose affected patients who may appear normal to clinicians on routines physical examination.”

The EncephalApp employs psychological evaluations for cognitive function called Stroop tests to screen and diagnose patients.

Thus, when a patient’s MHE condition improves, their performance on the app improves as well. Because MHE has such a strong effect on a patient’s ability to drive, the app’s results correlate to a patient’s potential performance in a driving simulation.

“The existing tests are hard to come by and also need trained personnel,” Bajaj said.

Bajaj said the EncelphalApp was developed to significantly simplify the diagnostic process, and he is excited about its ability to quickly identify MHE patients.

“The strength of this app could increase treatment rates and hopefully result in better patient outcomes,” Bajaj said.

Bajaj is not the first VCU Health researcher to conduct groundbreaking research this year.

In October, VCU collaborated with the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to conduct an ALS research program. The effort utilized stem cells and 3-D modeling to seek new therapeutic approaches to the fatal neurodegenerative disease.

According to the ALS Association, ALS first restricts patients from speaking, eating, moving or breathing.

“If we do this right, we can make these connections and make them work functionally,” said Jerome Strauss, dean of the School of Medicine, regarding the ALS research.

Graduate students are contributing to important medical research as well. This fall, third-year graduate student Mackenzie Lind concluded females may be more predisposed to developing insomnia than males.

Lind examined a database of pre-existing data from the Virginia Adult Twin Studies of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders. The VATSPUD has data on approximately 7,500 adult male and female twins that Lind was able to utilize in her research.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 30 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia while 10 percent have insomnia so severe it interferences with their daily lives.

Lind said nobody had looked at the sleep items in the VATSPUD, but by using the data from twin studies, researchers are able to examine differences in people who share the same DNA. Examining twins helped Lind see how genetic and environmental factors affected certain traits, like sleep.

“Our biggest and probably the most interesting finding is that within the final model I saw that insomnia appears to be more heritable for women,” Lind said. “That means theoretically that genes may be playing more of a role for women than for men in terms of developing insomnia.”

As a major public research university, VCU is both nationally and internationally ranked in sponsored research.

So far, the only other medical center where the EncephalApp Stroop has been evaluated at is the University of Arkansas Medical Center and Cleveland Clinic.

Print News Editor, Maura Mazurowski

1374337_10202226882420470_1936193223_nMaura is a junior cinema and journalism student. She’s interested in combining investigative journalism with filmmaking, and is a contributing writer for the online publications Elite Daily and Literally Darling. Before transferring to VCU, Maura was an editor for the student newspaper at Virginia Tech, the Collegiate Times. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Portfolio

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