Portable brain scanner with Bluetooth for emergency stroke assessment
13 October 2005
The UK charity Action Medical Research has awarded Dr Alistair McEwan
of University College London a grant of £138,629 to develop a portable
brain scanner using electrical impedance tomography. It will enable
ambulance crews to assess stroke victims on route to hospital.
With over 250,000 people affected by strokes at any one time, the
Australian born researcher is hoping that his work will help to reduce
the numbers affected by the largest single cause of severe disability in
The availability of new clot-busting drugs means that some stroke
patients who are treated within three hours of their attack can make a
full recovery. However, because strokes may be caused by either a bleed
or a blood clot within the brain, doctors need to be absolutely sure of
the cause prior to treatment as in some instances administering a
clot-busting drug could make the damage worse.
Currently the best way to be certain is for the patient to have an MRI
or CT scan — which takes valuable time at a point where every second
counts in keeping brain damage to a minimum.
This technological advance would allow life-saving treatment to be
given before the patient reaches hospital. Ambulance crews would be able
to make an immediate assessment of stroke patients using the portable
scanner, which would be linked to an on-board computer using Bluetooth
Dr McEwan, who is in the Department of Bioengineering and Medical
Physics, said, “I am proud that Action Medical Research has chosen to
highlight the importance of my work with this award. The charity is
renowned within the medical profession for supporting only the very best
in research — so I feel hugely honoured to be alongside some of the best
known, cutting-edge research teams.
“I am developing a lightweight, portable and, very importantly, cheap
to operate system that uses electrical impedance tomography (EIT) to
detect changes or abnormalities in the brain. My plan is to design a
device that can be simply placed on the patient’s head to quickly
provide an accurate assessment to allow treatment to start immediately.
For strokes, speed is really of the essence so beginning treatment as
soon as possible will save lives and unnecessary brain damage.
“The uses are widespread — initially I am concentrating on the
diagnosis of strokes and epileptic seizures, however it is feasible that
this technology could be used in the imaging of migraines, tumours,
heart, lung and liver conditions.
“This is just the beginning — it’s possible, for example, that images
could be sent over the internet to the hospital from the ambulance — and
be reported by a radiologist — so that the hospital can be prepared for
the patient before they arrive.
Andrew Proctor from Action Medical Research added, “The charity seeks
to fund the very best in research. Our Research Training Fellowships are
awarded to the very brightest and most talented doctors and scientists
like Dr McEwan early in their research careers.
“We believe that his work will be ground-breaking, and in the future
may save many lives and improve the quality of care for those who have
suffered strokes or epileptic attacks."
About electrical impedance tomography
Electrical impedance tomography (EIT), (also called applied
potential tomography) is an imaging technique that uses an
electrical current applied to the body by a set of electrodes and
measuring the voltage developed between another set of electrodes. EIT
is about a thousand times cheaper and a thousand times smaller than
X-ray and positron emission tomography, but has lower resolution and
more variability between subjects.
Source: Electrical Impedance Tomography.
Action Medical Research:
Department of Bioengineering and Medical Physics, University College
Electrical Impedance Tomography website: