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SwRI develops screening tool for traumatic brain injuries

June 10, 2024 — Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has developed a field-ready screening tool for traumatic brain injury (TBI). The Advanced Military Measure of Olfaction (AMMO) kit includes an array of scents, deployable anywhere from the battlefield to the football field, to help screen for TBIs in minutes. 

“The AMMO test kit is not intended as a diagnostic test but as a screening tool,” said SwRI Senior Research Engineer Kreg Zimmern, the project’s leader.

The kit includes six sealed vials that release a range of odors, such as fruity and spicy aromas. When squeezed, a test vial turns blue to indicate a smell has been released and is ready for use. Patients are asked to identify the odor from four possible choices on an attached card. Answers are documented onto a separate answer card; the correct answers are hidden behind a sticker. Research shows failing to identify the scents correctly correlates highly with positive results for TBI on an MRI exam.

“Someone exposed to a blast on the battlefield could be screened immediately with AMMO instead of waiting for the onset of signs or symptoms of TBI. The inability to identify the scents could be used as rationale to justify an MRI,” Zimmern said. 

AMMO is undergoing stability studies to determine how long the kit can be stored and still be effective. SwRI is developing AMMO in compliance with relevant FDA and ISO guidelines. It’s the only olfactory test kit to undergo such rigorous controls.

“The kit is inexpensive, compact, has no special storage conditions and doesn’t need electricity,” Zimmern said. “This makes it a potential screening tool in emergency rooms as well as at workplaces, nursing homes and youth, collegiate and professional sports games.”

While AMMO doesn’t require any specialized training to administer, the results can inform the decision-making process for first responders and doctors.

“Traumatic brain injuries can have profound and sometimes long-term effects,” said Zimmern. “They can dramatically change the course of lives. Plus, they are also notoriously difficult to diagnose and multiple TBIs can be catastrophic.”

SwRI collaborated with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine and the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop AMMO.  

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official guidance or position of the United States Government, the Department of Defense or of the United States Air Force.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or policies of The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc.

For more information, visit Biochemistry & Bioengineering or contact Camaron Brooks,+1 210 522 2357, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.