Portable brain-scanning helmet could prevent stroke victims becoming severely disabled
16 February 2017 • 7:00pm
Anew portable brain scanning helmet which diagnoses the extent of stroke damage in just 30 seconds could prevent patients being left with severe disability. Around 152,000 people suffer a stroke in Britain each year, but fewer than half receive scans in time for brain cell saving drugs to be administered, or surgery to be carried out, according to the Stroke Association.
Now scientists in the US have developed a PET scanning helmet which assesses damage and can be used at a bedside, or even carried in ambulances for fast diagnosis. Positron Emission Tomography or PET scanners work by spotting which parts of the brain are correctly absorbing sugar (energy) which shows they are functioning correctly. After a stroke there is a small time window in which to save dying areas of the brain known as the penumbra. The PET scan can show which areas are still absorbing energy, and therefore still alive so that drugs or surgery can be given before it is too late. "Time is brain for stroke," said Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology at West Virginia University.
"The more you wait, the more that penumbra area gasps and dies. A lot of it remains in limbo. If you can see there's a bit of activity you might say 'let's do an intervention'. "You could see if that area is getting the sugar back to it. If the stroke has occurred within 2-4 hours, it's often worth it. The moment they came into emergency we could get an image. You could roll it right up to their bedside and put it on their head. "The intervention is basically brain plumbing, they put something in to dissolve the plaque to restore blood flow and those bits might perk up."
Last year the Royal College of Physicians called for the rest of the country to follow the example of London, where all at-risk patients undergo scans within 60 minutes. In October, the Stroke Association also warned that the recovery of stroke patients was being put at risk by because they were not being scanned in time. Juliet Bouverie, chief executive of the Stroke Association, said: "Stroke is a medical emergency, and when swift treatment is not given to those who need it, people’s recoveries are put at risk. "The longer a patient waits for a brain scan, the longer it will be before they receive the right treatment, and they are more likely to be left with a serious disability as a result." The device is also portable enough to be taken to sports stadiums and battlefields to check for brain injuries in soldiers and athletes. It could be ready for use in stroke patients within two years, say scientists. The research was presented at the annual AAAS in Boston.