The sorting hat in "Harry Potter", which can assess a Hogwarts student's qualities, may be purely fictional but a helmet that has a similar ability but for practical purposes appears to have crucial medical use after all.
Sweden-based Medfield Diagnostics has developed a helmet device that can determine if a patient had a stroke. The device called Strokefinder, which was designed to be placed in the patient's head, bounces microwaves off the wearer's brain to examine the brain tissue and determine if there has been a stroke that was caused by either bleeding or blood clot.
Scientists who have conceived and developed the device said that the microwave helmet can save lives as well as speed up diagnosis and treatment of stroke patients which could reduce their risks for disability and improve their chances of recovery.
In a clinical trial of Strokefinder, which was described in the study "Microwave-based stroke diagnosis making global pre-hospital thrombolytic treatment possible" published in the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering journal on June 16, Mikael Persson, from the Department of Signals and Systems at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, and colleagues involved 45 patients to test two prototypes of the Strokefinder helmet and found that the system is able to differentiate with certainty blood clot-induced ischaemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, from hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds.
Differentiating these two types of stroke is crucial. Individuals who had ischaemic stroke should be given drug treatment within three to four hours or the medication may become harmful. Unfortunately, a hospital scan is still needed before the treatment can be given as giving the drug to a patient who had bleeding-induced stroke can be life-threatening.
Persson and colleagues conducted their initial patient studies in hospital settings but they intend to test a mobile stroke helmet on patients in ambulance.
"The results of this study show that we will be able to increase the number of stroke patients who receive optimal treatment when the instrument makes a diagnosis already in the ambulance," Persson said. "The possibility to rule out bleeding already in the ambulance is a major achievement that will be of great benefit in acute stroke care."
Stroke, which occurs when a portion of a person's brain cells gets damaged because of oxygen deprivation, affects about 15 million people worldwide per year. The European Brain Council says that the total annual cost of stroke in Europe is over EUR 64 billion.