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If you go to the emergency room after a serious car accident, one of the first things the staff will do is check for a traumatic brain injury. But brain swelling and pressure can build up over time, so how do your doctors know if you are at risk? New dissolvable sensors could allow doctors to monitor brain injury patients from inside, without the need for more surgery.
Many people today wear FitBits or other devices that monitor heart rate, sleeping patterns, and activity levels. They use them to track fitness goals and to monitor health conditions. But now there may be a way for doctors to monitor your brain too, at least for a few days.
Neurosurgeons at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have teamed up to develop a tiny, dissolvable sensor that can detect temperature and pressure and transmit the data wirelessly to nearby computers. What makes this invention revolutionary is that it dissolves in salt water in just a matter of days. That means that, in theory, a human body can completely break down the sensor and absorb it without harm to the patient.
The team designed this tool with traumatic brain injury in mind. They hope the design will help advance medical science that is stuck in the past. Current devices “are based on technology from the 1980s,” says Dr. Rory K. J. Murphy, study author.
“They’re large, they’re unwieldy, and they have wires that connect to monitors in the intensive care unit. . . . They give accurate readings, and they help, but there are ways to make them better.”
One way is to get rid of the wires. Another is to put them inside the patient directly. Prof. John A. Rogers, from the University of Illinois, explains:
”With advanced materials and device designs, we demonstrated that it is possible to create electronic implants that offer high performance and clinically relevant operation in hardware that completely resorbs into the body after the relevant functions are no longer needed.”
Until now, devices placed into the body to monitor things like intracranial pressure or temperature had to be removed through surgery and ran the risk of exposing the patient to infection and inflammation – a major cause of secondary brain injury.
The team has tested the device in saline solutions and on rats. Now they are ready for human patients. They can be implanted during an initial surgery to relieve intracranial pressure. There, they will report out information for up to 3 days before dissolving and being absorbed by the patient’s body.
The device promises big changes in the treatment of brain injury and other conditions that require intense monitoring. It will give doctors critical information without requiring additional surgeries or clunky equipment. With such streamlined technology, doctors will be better able to react to changes in pressure and prevent secondary injury that could change patients’ lives.
David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law. He represents brain injury victims against auto insurance companies. If you or someone you love has suffered a brain injury, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.