Stroke-detecting technology using microwaves shows promise in detecting intracranial bleeding from traumatic brain injury. 

Treatment for severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) characterized by bleeding in the brain (intracranial) requires opening the skull to release pressure and remove clotted blood, called a hematoma. The survival rate is only ten percent if the hematoma is not removed within four hours. Getting a patient with an intracranial hematoma to a neurosurgical center with radiology facilities for a CT scan in the shortest amount of time then becomes a matter of life and death.

“It’s not so much an issue of being able to do more for them (TBI patients) pre-hospital wise, it’s a question of triage, of transporting them to the right hospital, and that’s a huge problem,” said Mikal Elam, chair of clinical neurophysiology at the University of Gothenburg.

Stroke Detecting Device May Detect Hematoma from TBI

The goal has been to find a portable device to detect bleeding from TBI at low cost to convey diagnostic information in a fast, non-invasive, and safe manner. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden are now considering applying an already existing, light-weight (under 10 pounds), portable stroke-detecting device called a Strokefinder to quickly diagnose intracranial bleeding at the site of a traumatic brain injury.

Built by Medfield Diagnostics, the Strokefinder is a tool already used to differentiate between strokes without a clot blocking blood flow and those that involve bleeding. Medfield is collaborating with Chalmers’ and Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska University Hospital on projects featuring the Strokefinder, believing doctors there would have a better idea of what they need than engineers at the company.

Here’s How It Works

The Strokefinder device a patient’s head is placed inside has eight microwave antennas on it, each one firing a small amount of microwave radiation through the brain (between 1/100th and 1/10th what you receive from a cell phone conversation), while the other antennas pick it up. The process is repeated at several different frequencies. The microwaves quietly progress through the tissue in different ways, depending on the consistency of the tissue, and are then filtered via an algorithm instead of an image, to enable the hematoma to stand out as either a stroke or a TBI. The patient can’t feel it working, and the entire process takes only 45 seconds. Once a hematoma is detected, the patient can be quickly transported to the correct hospital with a neurosurgical center.