Suspected brain injuries can be difficult to diagnose, and expensive CT scanners are the best way to look for edemas and hematomas. But CT scanners are large, expensive, ionizing, and require specialists to operate.
Researchers at UC Berkeley have been working on developing a new brain injury detector that is cheap, easy to use, and can provide nearly immediate results. The device sends radio signals that pass through the brain and are detected using a specialty antenna. The underlying technology is called Volumetric Electromagnetic Phase Shift Spectroscopy (VEPS), and it can detect “changes in tissue properties inside the body through non-contact, multi-frequency electromagnetic measurements from the exterior of the body, and thereby provide rapid and inexpensive diagnostics,” according to Gonzalez et al. study in PLOS ONE. Changes in the signal, as compared to healthy subjects, is an indicator that something is wrong. The team worked with Mexican soldiers admitted to a hospital with suspected brain injuries, and showed that the new device matched the results obtained through CT.
From UC Berkeley:
The researchers took advantage of the characteristic changes in tissue composition and structure in brain injuries. For brain edemas, swelling results from an increase in fluid in the tissue. For brain hematomas, internal bleeding causes the buildup of blood in certain regions of the brain. Because fluid conducts electricity differently than brain tissue, it is possible to measure changes in electromagnetic properties. Computer algorithms interpret the changes to determine the likelihood of injury.
The study involved 46 healthy adults, ages 18 to 48, and eight patients with brain damage, ages 27 to 70.
The engineers fashioned two coils into a helmet-like device that was fitted over the heads of the study participants. One coil acted as a radio emitter and the other served as the receiver. Electromagnetic signals were broadcast through the brain from the emitter to the receiver.
“We have adjusted the coils so that if the brain works perfectly, we have a clean signal,” said Rubinsky. “Whenever there are interferences in the functioning of the brain, we detect them as changes in the received signal. We can tell from the changes, or ‘noises,’ what the brain injury is.”
Rubinsky noted that the waves are extremely weak, and are comparable to standing in a room with the radio or television turned on.
The device’s diagnoses for the brain trauma patients in the study matched the results obtained from conventional computerized tomography (CT) scans.