New Instrument Helps Pinpoint Strokes Faster

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June 30, 2014

Copyright 2014 Gannett Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Researchers are developing a new medical instrument to enable paramedics to diagnose strokes in the ambulance, speeding potentially life-altering treatment.

The time it takes to identify a stroke and transport a stroke victim to the hospital to be diagnosed can shape the rest of a person's life, researchers say.

Strokefinder is a helmet-shaped tool that transmits weak microwave signals into the brain to diagnose whether the stroke is a bleeding stroke or a clot-induced stroke.

The difference is important, said Mikael Elam, Strokefinder project leader and professor of clinical neurophysiology at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden. The blood-thinning treatment given to victims of a clot-induced stroke to dissolve the blood clots could prove fatal if the victim was suffering a bleeding stroke.

Elam collaborated with a team of researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, led by Mikael Persson, a professor of biomedical engineering. Over the course of 10 years the researchers have been testing how microwaves penetrate the brain and developing Strokefinder to use that technology to diagnose strokes. The researchers conducted a study with 45 patients, recently published in the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering journal, which showed Strokefinder could differentiate clearly between bleeding strokes and clot-induced strokes.

"The possibility to rule out bleeding already in the ambulance is a major achievement that will be of great benefit in acute stroke care," Persson said.

Strokes are caused when blood flow is cut off to the brain, resulting in millions of brain cells dying due to oxygen deprivation, said Andrei Alexandrov, a neurologist and professor at University of Tennessee. This can lead to permanent disability if the stroke is not diagnosed and treated within the first few hours. Strokes are the leading cause of permanent disability in adults, and this is often because the symptoms aren't recognized right away and, unlike with a heart attack, there is no pain, Alexandrov said.

"The problem with strokes is that symptoms can be so diverse and discreet," Elam said.

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