Researchers at the University of South Florida have developed a device that could help prevent strokes in patients undergoing surgery.
Called a DCS − for diffuse correlation spectroscopy − the optical monitoring tool uses fibre optics to emit light and capture a returning signal. The light monitors blood flow to the brain during surgery and gives real-time information. Any abnormalities in how the light travels alert doctors to a potential problem, such as a stroke or brain bleed.
‘We’re looking to see how new technologies can help drive patient care,’ said Ashwin Parthasarathy, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering. ‘As an engineer, I’m interested in the technology aspect and as a neurologist, Maxim [Mokin, an associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Brain Repair] is interested in the medical aspect. But I can address what his needs are and come up with solutions.’
The pair were recently awarded a two-year, US$400,000 research grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a part of the National Institutes of Health. The funds will help them collect more quantitative data from the device, with the goal of improving treatment for patients. They will also purchase tools to refine the technology and make it fully automated and capture more data points.
‘We’re working to make it more robust and easier to use,’ Parthasarathy said.
For years, neurologists have used MRIs, CAT scans and transcranial dopplers to take images of the brain, but these don’t always give surgeons the information they need at a precise moment. The new, non-invasive device – which has been tested on more than a dozen patients − uses small plastic caps attached to the head that send real-time data to a monitor in the operating room.
‘The others are good tools but they’re bulky and only give you a snapshot,’ Mokin said. ‘This is a small portable device that studies brain functions in an acute setting and it gives a continuous recording.’
The researchers believe that the device could represent a breakthrough in a critical aspect of health care. According to the American Heart Association, each year, nearly 800,000 people in the USA alone suffer a stroke – one every 40 seconds. The majority of these incidents are ischemic, meaning blood flow to the brain is reduced or blocked.
‘This device is giving us more data to better understand brain signals that might indicate a stroke,’ Mokin said. ‘We need to know more about what is noise, what is normal function, what are the thresholds, and what changes indicate that something bad is about to happen.’
The more information gathered in the operating room, the better, the researchers said, as it will lead to efficiencies on the engineering bench. ‘It’s an exciting way to do science,’ Parthasarathy said. ‘I’m able to get instantaneous feedback on how my device is working, so it’s not just me toiling alone in the lab. Our hope is to show how this technology has great clinical value, maybe by predicting if a patient is getting better or worse. That’s the end game − predictive value in our measurements.’
The research has been published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery.