Compact brain scanner

A University College London researcher is working on the development of a brain scanner that could revolutionise stroke care.

Ambulance crews would be able to make an immediate assessment of stroke patients using the portable scanner, which would be linked to an on-board computer using Bluetooth wireless technology. The advance would allow life-saving treatment to be given before the patient reaches hospital.

The availability of new clot-busting drugs means that some stroke patients who are treated within three hours of their attack can make a full recovery. However, since strokes may be caused by either a bleed or a blood clot within the brain, doctors need to be absolutely sure of the cause prior to treatment because in some instances administering a clot-busting drug could make the damage worse.

Currently,  the best way to be certain is for the patient to have an MRI or CT scan – which takes valuable time at a point where every second counts in keeping brain damage to a minimum.

So University College London’s Dr. Alistair McEwan – with the help of a £138,629 grant by Action Medical Research – is developing a portable system that resolves this problem.

McEwan’s system will use Electrical Impedance Tomography (EIT) to detect changes or abnormalities in the brain.

“My plan is to design a device that can be simply placed on the patient’s head to quickly provide an accurate assessment to allow treatment to start immediately. For strokes, speed is really of the essence so beginning treatment as soon as possible will save lives and unnecessary brain damage,” he said.

“The uses are widespread – initially I am concentrating on the diagnosis of strokes and epileptic seizures, however it is feasible that this technology could be used in the imaging of migraines, tumours, heart, lung and liver conditions,” he added.

In the future, images taken by the system could be sent over the internet to the hospital from the ambulance – and be reported by a radiologist – so that the hospital can be prepared for the patient before they arrive.