Scots university aids work to develop speedier stroke diagnosis

3D image of brain Image copyright Handout
Image caption A 3D image of a brain

An international team of mathematicians, including one from Strathclyde University, has developed a method to speed up stroke diagnosis.

The team's technique involves building a 3D image of a patient's brain in a matter of minutes.

Strokes occur about 152,000 times a year in the UK, according to the Stroke Association.

In Scotland, NHS Scotland considers strokes to be the third commonest cause of death.

When a stroke happens speed is of the essence. First in diagnosing what kind of stroke it is, then treating it.

That is because there are two main types - ischemic and haemorrhagic - and two very different ways of treating them.

Both MRI and CT scanners can provide an image of the brain and the damage done, but are big and expensive. Patients have to come to them.

Image copyright Handout
Image caption The method is being developed by an international team

The mathematicians envisage a new type of detector small enough to ride in an ambulance.

It will be a helmet containing microwave antennae, and will fire the microwave through the patient's brain and receive the resulting signals.

The results will be sent to a supercomputing centre, which is where the maths comes in.

The techniques developed at Strathclyde and on the continent can produce a 3D image of the brain - and its injury - within 15 minutes.

The sensor hardware is being developed by the Austrian imaging company EMTensor.

Portable device

At the moment it exists as two prototypes in a hospital in Vienna.

Each is a cylindrical chamber consisting of five rings, each of 32 antennae.

The next step will be to make the device portable.

One of the mathematics team is Dr Victorita Dolean, a Reader in Strathclyde's Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

"Our aim will be to produce a portable and less expensive device that can detect strokes in real time," she says.

"The idea would be that we'd send these electromagnetic waves into the brain and then the properties of the tissues - which will be healthy or sick - will be detected by measurements of the data on this helmet.

Image copyright Handout
Image caption A prototype of the device which could eventually become portable

"The data will be sent to a supercomputing centre.

"We have designed some open source software that is able to reconstruct, precisely and in real time, an image of the brain and then send it back to the doctors to interpret this data and make the diagnosis."

The team's mathematical approach has already won the team the Bull-Joseph Fourier Prize for excellence in numerical simulation and data processing.

"We could not have done this a few years ago because we needed powerful advances in electronics, in computer science, in algorithms, in mathematics," Dr Dolean says.

She now expects the sensor helmets to be in the field in two to four years - not just in ambulances, but anywhere they might be needed.

"They'll be cheap and portable and able to act as an emergency device," she says.

And that quick, on the spot diagnosis could mean survival for stroke victims.

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