UCL News


Portable brain scanner could save stroke victims

17 August 2005

A hi-tech portable brain scanner which could revolutionise the care of stroke patients is being developed in the UK.

It is being developed by Dr Alistair McEwan [UCL Department of Medical Physics & Bioengineering], who has just been awarded a grant of almost £140,000 by charity Action Medical Research.

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.

But doctors need to be sure of the cause of the stroke, which can be due to either a bleed or a blood clot in the brain, before giving treatment. …

At the moment patients have to have an MRI or CT scan to check what has caused their stroke. But this can take up valuable time in hospital when every second counts to keep brain damage to a minimum.

Dr McEwan said that he hoped his quick-to-use portable system would help solve this problem, letting ambulance staff provide treatment before the patient even arrives at hospital. …

Dr McEwan said he hoped his work would help reduce the number of people affected by stroke in the UK.

"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," he said.

"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." … Dr McEwan said he was initially concentrating on the diagnosis of strokes and epileptic seizures, but the device could have more widespread uses.

He said it was feasible that the 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.

"It's a very exciting field to be working in," he said. Andrew Proctor, from Action Medical Research, said the charity's Research Training Fellowships were awarded to the very brightest and most talented doctors and scientists like Dr McEwan early in their research careers.

Lyndsay Moss, Press Association