Wireless signals could transform brain trauma diagnostics
New technology developed at the University of California, Berkeley, is using wireless signals to provide real-time, non-invasive diagnoses of brain swelling or bleeding.
The device analyzes data from low energy electromagnetic waves that are similar to those used to transmit radio and mobile signals. The technology, described in the May 14 issue of the journal PLOS ONE, could potentially become a cost-effective tool for medical diagnostics and to triage injuries in areas where access to medical care, especially medical imaging, is limited.
The researchers tested a prototype in a small-scale pilot study of healthy adults and brain trauma patients admitted to a military hospital for the Mexican Army. The results from the healthy participants were clearly distinguishable from the patients with brain damage, and data for bleeding was distinct from data for swelling.
Boris Rubinsky, Professor of the Graduate School at UC Berkeley’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, led the research team along with César A. González, a professor in Mexico at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Escuela Superior de Medicina (National Polytechnic Institute’s Superior School of Medicine).
“There are large populations in Mexico and the world that do not have adequate access to advanced medical imaging, either because it is too costly or the facilities are far away,” said González. “This technology is inexpensive, it can be used in economically disadvantaged parts of the world and in rural areas that lack industrial infrastructure, and it may substantially reduce the cost and change the paradigm of medical diagnostics. We have also shown that the technology could be combined with cell phones for remote diagnostics.”
Rubinsky noted that symptoms of serious head injuries and brain damage are not always immediately obvious, and for treatment, time is of the essence. For example, the administration of clot-busting medication for certain types of strokes must be given within three hours of the onset of symptoms.
“Some people might delay traveling to a hospital to get examined because it is an hour or more away, or because it is exceedingly expensive,” said Rubinsky. “If people had access to an affordable device that could indicate whether there is brain damage or not, they could then make an informed decision about making that trip to a facility to get prompt treatment, which is especially important for head injuries.”
The researchers took advantage of the characteristic changes in tissue composition and structure in brain injuries. For brain edemas, swelling results from an increase in fluid in the tissue. For brain hematomas, internal bleeding causes the buildup of blood in certain regions of the brain. Because fluid conducts electricity differently than brain tissue, it is possible to measure changes in electromagnetic properties. Computer algorithms interpret the changes to determine the likelihood of injury.