Revolutionary Technology Monitors Brain Pressure through Patient’s Wrist

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is known worldwide as a school that houses some of the world’s brightest minds. Some of the great intellects at the school’s Research Laboratory of Electronics have come up with a monitoring solution for intracranial pressure (ICP) from brain swelling that is non-invasive and effective.ICP Dangers

ICP Dangers

Traditionally, doctors have relied on surgery, drilling a hole in the skull to gain access to the intracranial space where they could insert a tube and place monitors that directly check the levels of pressure within the skull. Brain swelling must be avoided because when it occurs pressure increases, pressing on soft brain tissues and causing serious brain injuries. Because the procedure carries serious risks, doctors only order such monitors when there is a serious reason for concern.

The reluctance of doctors to use traditional ICP monitoring except in extreme cases leaves many head injury patients open to danger. The severity of a brain injury can easily be masked. Patients may fail to show classic signs of a serious injury. As a result, brain swelling may cause damage without doctors knowing about the problem until it is too late, especially in cases where pressure builds up slowly. MIT’s new technology may save lives by allowing doctors to monitor intracranial pressure on all head injury patients, not just those with obviously serious injuries.

How Does It Work?

MIT researchers have discovered that they can gain important insights into the pressure inside the skull by using algorithms based on computer models of how blood flows within the body. They can decipher blood flow at the middle cerebral artery (MCA), by measuring pressure waves at the wrist with ultrasound or by inserting a catheter at the wrist to measure radial arterial pressure. They can then use mathematics to determine what levels of pressure in the brain created the resulting pressure at the wrist. Or, in MIT language: “Using 35 hours of data from 37 patients with traumatic brain injury, we generated ICP estimates on 2665 nonoverlapping 60-beat data windows. Referenced against concurrently recorded invasive parenchymal ICP that varied over 100 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) across all records, our estimates achieved a mean error (bias) of 1.6 mmHg and SD of error (SDE) of 7.6 mmHg.” To put this complicated jargon more simply, MIT’s algorithm is only slightly less accurate than invasive direct ICP measurements.

At some point, researchers hope to accomplish the same results using a simple finger cuff such as those hospitals use to measure pulse and blood pressure now. Tests are planned to determine if that monitoring method would be as accurate as those tested by MIT.

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