Vol. 24, Issue 2: Spring 2017

‘Microwave helmet’ may cut time taken to evaluate head injuries

Enock Goo

Treatment of brain injuries in hospital setting is, by nature, a slow process. When a patient has been admitted, they will often be ordered a CT scan to be evaluated by a physician. Depending on the speediness of that particular hospital, the elapsed time will vary.

This serves as a problem for cases of severe brain injuries, where even a few minutes of delayed treatment could lead to complications and even death. According to the CDC, a survey conducted in 2010 reported that around 2.5 million patients have visited the hospital for traumatic brain injuries, or TBI for short, as caused by physical impact onto the head, i.e. being hit or falling on one’s head.

A portable device developed by researchers at the Bold/Chalmers University of Technology may cut the time it takes to evaluate head injuries before the patient is even admitted to the hospital. The device is a helmet placed onto the patient’s head which, using microwave signaling technology, analyzes brain tissue damage. A generator located at the top of the helmet sends signals into the patient’s head and collects the responding signals to be processed by a computer. The data is analyzed with algorithms which infer what changes occur in the brain processes of the patient due to the impact. Dr. Ljungqvist of the research group suggests that the quantitative results produced by the computer may help in preliminary assessments of injuries.

The trial of this device was conducted on 20 patients with hematoma, which is a severe case of TBI, and 20 healthy volunteers in a hospital in Sweden. All participants underwent CT scans (computerized tomography) in addition to the microwave assessments so as to compare the results of the two for correspondence. The results indicated that the microwave technology detected hematoma at 100 percent sensitivity and 75 percent specificity. Sensitivity refers to how well a test detects a certain disease, and specificity refers to how accurately the test diagnoses the disease. The microwave helmet fell short by 25 percent specificity, producing results that over-diagnosed the subjects, indicating that the device needs further research and development to be used in actual hospital settings with a higher degree of disease specificity.

From these results, authors of the research have concluded that the microwave helmet, as of now, “shows promise as a tool to improve triage accuracy”. The device, though still at an early stage of development, shows potential not only in shortening the time elapsed in evaluating brain injuries but also in improving its accuracy.

This technology might be useful in the military, where quick assessments of common head injuries are of utmost importance in urgent situations. Additionally, elderly homes may benefit from the helmet where strokes and other related head injuries are common.

Dr. Ljungqvist and his colleagues suggest that future research in the project of shortening evaluation time in brain injuries will involve the development of technology which is more portable and accessible to hospitals and emergency transportations. Furthermore, a shortened time will also increase the overall efficiency of medical practitioners whilst decreasing the costs of receiving evaluations on the patient’s part.

About the Author

Enhok Goo is currently a junior at the University of California, Berkeley studying philosophy and biochemistry. Some of his interests include topics such as moral psychology, consciousness, and biological naturalism. During his free time, he enjoys making hip hop music and writing on his philosophy blog.