Philips, MIT take on brain injuries

With ultrasound technology and computer modeling, they hope to measure intracranial pressure without drilling into the skull
By Bernie Monegain
10:15 AM

Royal Philips has teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to research the use of Philips ultrasound technology and MIT physiological modeling as a less invasive way to measure intracranial pressure.

Intracranial pressure measures are essential in managing patients with brain injuries.

If the work proves successful, it would make it possible for doctors to use the measurement on less critical patients, who might not normally be considered for such monitoring. During the study, Philips will work with leading experts in the field of neurosurgery to test a core estimation algorithm that has been developed by the Integrative Neuro-monitoring and Critical Care Informatics Group in MIT's Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.

The goal, researchers say, is to develop a noninvasive method of measuring ICP that could be used in treating a much wider range of conditions. It's also an opportunity to test innovative hardware and modeling techniques at the bedside in real time.

[See also: MIT, Philips bullish on open data.]

Today's standard ICP measurement procedures require surgical penetration of the skull or lumbar spine and insertion of a catheter into the cerebrospinal fluid space or neural tissue, which poses a high risk of infection and damage to vital brain structures.

Due to the invasive nature of the procedure, only a small number of patients who may require ICP monitoring are typically tracked and benefit from it – often those suffering from the most severe head injuries. However, this trial could create the opportunity to take ICP measurements in an expanded group of patients who would not routinely be monitored because of the health risks involved with measuring ICP.

"The current invasive method of measuring ICP is used only in the sickest patients, but knowledge of ICP is potentially important in a much broader population," MIT professor Thomas Heldt, principal investigator of the study, said in a news release. "Our goal is to develop a noninvasive method of measuring ICP that could be used in treating a much wider range of conditions. This project gives us an exciting opportunity to test innovative hardware and modeling techniques at the bedside in real time."

Over the next two years, Philips will work with MIT to research a fully non-invasive and calibration-free approach to estimating ICP and thereby enable better diagnosis and triage in cases where a patient has suffered a brain injury – on the football field, the battlefield, or wherever the injury occurs. Using Philips portable ultrasound technologies and monitoring technologies, as well as the MIT model-based estimation approach, researchers hope to get the value of ICP without penetrating the skull. Further, researchers hope to expand the use of the technology to non-traditional patients, such as those with unexplained headaches, mild and moderate traumatic brain injury, or even coma patients, who normally would not have access to this type of procedure, but who could potentially benefit from it.

[See also: Obama unveils $100M BRAIN Initiative.]

Philips recently announced the opening of its new Philips Research headquarters for North America in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it will perform these types of research projects in collaboration with local academic and healthcare partners. Focused on understanding how medical technologies can be adapted to tackle some of society's most pressing issues, the intent is that this type of research can lead to meaningful innovations that can help reduce care costs and improve patient results, Philips executives say.

"Today it is very difficult to gauge the level of head trauma someone has sustained at the scene of an incident, because there is no quick and effective way to gauge the pressure inside the skull," said Joseph Frassica, chief science officer of Philips Research North America, in a press statement. "Through this research, we hope to use the same technology most people associate with the first images of their child, in a way that has the potential to help us to differentiate a concussion from a serious traumatic brain injury and everything in between.
"Whether you're a high school football player, in the NFL, a soldier in the battlefield, or unfortunate enough to be injured in an auto accident – we hope that this technology will give first responders a better way to determine if you have a life-threatening brain injury and allow faster and more accurate triage and treatment," Frassica added. "By improving access and response times, these types of solutions have the potential to really impact patient outcomes."