Close up of a person having blood drawn fro a test.

UB Startup Gets $2.9 Million From NIH to Develop Blood Test for Brain Aneurysms

Release Date: January 12, 2024

Vincent Tutino.

Vincent M. Tutino, PhD

“Currently, metrics that determine whether a patient is at risk for an IA rupture —which is a catastrophic event that carries a high-rate of mortality and permanent disability among survivors — can only be accessed after an invasive, expensive test. ”
Assistant professor of pathology and anatomical sciences in the Jacobs School

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Vincent M. Tutino, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, believes there is a cost-effective and simple way to detect a potential brain aneurysm.

Through Neurovascular Diagnostics, a small biomedical company Tutino co-founded in 2016, a team of researchers is developing a way to screen individuals for unruptured intracranial aneurysms (IA), or brain aneurysms, with a blood test called AneuScreen.

To further this work, Neurovascular Diagnostics was recently awarded $2.9 million from the National Institutes of Health in Small Business Innovation Research funds. The grant is expected to support research over the next three years.

Other company co-founders are:

  • Hui Meng, PhD, UB Distinguished Professor of in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Jeff Harvey, a Western New York entrepreneur
  • Kenneth V. Snyder, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurosurgery, radiology and neurology

Blood Test May Provide Easier, Cheaper Results

“Currently, metrics that determine whether a patient is at risk for an IA rupture – which is a catastrophic event that carries a high-rate of mortality and permanent disability among survivors – can only be accessed after an invasive, expensive test,” Tutino said. “Most health insurance will cover this type of screening only if two or more immediate family members have had an aneurysm, either ruptured or unruptured.”

And this test is usually handled through MRI, Tutino said, which may not be highly accurate at detecting aneurysms, especially smaller ones.

“We want to enter the space as a prescreen for a larger pool of patients,” Tutino said. “Maybe it’s a person with just one family member who has suffered an aneurysm or maybe it’s a person with a lot of cardiovascular risk factors, who would be at higher risk for an aneurysm.”

Postmenopausal women who smoke, for instance, are at a high-risk for aneurysm and stroke, he said. By identifying the best candidates and screening them with an inexpensive blood test, predicting potential brain aneurysms would become easier and cheaper.

Team of Research and Clinical Collaborators

Harvey, who lost his wife, Carol Harvey, to two ruptured brain aneurysms in 2002, provided the seed money for the company; he established a research grant through the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.

Over the last few years, Neurovascular Diagnostics has received two National Science Foundation grants, two NIH grants, including this most recent one, and funding from UB’s Center for Advanced Technology in Big Data and Health Sciences (UB CAT) program.

“Due to Jeff’s generosity that stemmed from a tragedy, we’ve been able get this company off the ground and make real strides in creating a game-changing screening,” said Tutino, who has established an impressive team of researchers and clinicians.

Kerry E. Poppenberg, PhD, Neurovascular Diagnostics’ chief science officer and a UB research scientist in the Jacobs School’s Department of Neurosurgery, serves as the co-principal investigator with Tutino for the grant; Harvey serves as the company’s chief financial officer; Meng serves as the chief scientific officer; and Snyder serves as the chief medical officer and clinical adviser.

Other clinical collaborators at the Jacobs School include Elad I. Levy, MD, the L. Nelson Hopkins III Professor and Chair of neurosurgery; Adnan Siddiqui, MD, PhD, professor and vice chair of neurosurgery; and John E. Tomaszewski, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Professor and Chair of pathology and anatomical sciences.

Tutino and his team have used whole blood samples from patients coming in for medical imaging at the Gates Vascular Institute, in addition to medical centers at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Iowa and the University of South Florida.

“Early on, we looked at specific cell types in the blood, namely neutrophils, the white blood cells that respond to immune disturbances and infections,” Tutino said. “In a lot of the data, we saw more exaggerated expression patterns in individuals who had larger aneurysms.”

Finalizing Biomarker for Risk Assessment

In its new grant project, the Neurovascular Diagnostics team hopes to build out their assay and add additional risk markers to be able to assess whether a patient will have an aneurysm and if he or she does, how risky it might be.

In addition to detecting potential aneurysms, the test will help triage patients to figure out which ones may need more invasive imaging and which ones might need more immediate treatment, Tutino explained.

“For patients with an already known aneurysm, they will get a computerized tomography (CT) or MRI every year or two years,” he said. “But maybe with this blood test, they could be tested every six months. If it appears the risk is trending upward, maybe they can come in to see the doctor earlier.”

Tutino and his team will be finalizing a biomarker for the risk assessment for a brain aneurysm and then test it in new patients across the four medical centers.

“The whole treatment decision-making pipeline is all about assessing the risk of a future rupture,” Tutino explained. “And it helps answer the question: Does the patient really need brain surgery? Considering roughly 1% of all known aneurysms per year end up rupturing, we want to use this blood test to figure out which ones are the riskiest.”

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