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Helmet May Diagnose Stroke In Ambulance Via Microwaves

June 17, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Emergency Radiology, Neuroradiology
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The idea sounds weird, and the execution looks even weirder. Swedish researchers thought sending cell phone–frequency radiation through the brain could diagnose stroke. So they built a helmet with 12 microwave transceivers, each with a wire attached, so that the whole thing looks like some sort of medium-tech Medusa.

It works.

It’s called Strokefinder. Designer Mikael Persson, PhD, explained the genesis of the idea:

We realized that when you change the brain, it changes the wave patterns from mobile phones going through the brain, and we looked into the possibility that these wave patterns could detect brain trauma.

Dr. Persson is a professor and head of the division of signal processing and biomedical engineering at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. He was quoted by the NPR Shots health-news blog. He is also lead author of an article about the research that was published online last week in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.

Because quick diagnosis and treatment are so crucial in cases of stroke, the idea is to equip ambulances with the devices so emergency personnel can differentiate ischemic stroke from hemorrhagic stroke before the patient reaches the hospital. “The ultimate goal is to give treatment in the ambulance because so many brain cells are dying each second,” Dr. Persson said.

Each of the 12 transceivers takes its turn sending out a low-power microwave signal while the other 11 receive the signal. The device then analyzes how the signals have changed after passing through the brain in order to detect signs of cranial bleeding. The process takes only a few seconds.

The first pair of clinical trials, which took place in hospitals, involved a total of 45 stroke patients. The Strokefinder correctly identified all 19 patients suffering from cranial bleeding (as confirmed by CT scans). It also yielded five false positives—indicating possible bleeding when the patients actually were suffering from blood clots.

James C. Grotta, MD, a neurologist and stroke specialist at Memorial Hermann Medical Group in Houston, told NPR that the concept sounded intriguing. (He was not involved in the research.) “Right now, we have had to load a CT scanner onto the ambulance,” Dr. Grotta said, “but that scanner costs over $400,000. With this device, every ambulance could have one.”

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