It's often been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but researchers are confident they are also a pretty good window into the brain.
A team at Augusta University in Georgia is working on a portable 3-D ultrasound device that can examine the optic nerve to determine if a patient has sustained significant cranial damage.
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Ultrasound can’t directly look into the brain because bone and distance are deterrents to the ultrasound waves. The new ultrasound device can assess the thin, flexible sheath that protects the optic nerve to detect subtle changes that signify evaluated pressure inside the skull.
The inertial measurement unit technology used in drones, guided missiles and iPhones can add a third dimension to portable 2-D ultrasound. An accelerometer to measure motion and a gyrometer to gauge position, and the IMU technology puts images taken from different angles together to form a true 3-D angle.
The researchers believe this device would be especially useful for athletes. The baseline can be compared to what the sheath looks like after athlete sustained a hit to the head to determine if they can go back to the game or further evaluation is needed.
Ultrasound exams can be performed at the bedside, but they're not performed on the field because the current transducers and processing equipment required for this sort of detail are expensive, not readily portable and not designed for the eye.
Augusta University has patented the concept of using 3-D ultrasound to detect brain injuries. The researchers received a one-year $350,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, and are working with the biotech company URSUS Medical LLC to build the device.
They hope to have a prototype within a few months and then begin testing it on optic nerve sheath models and later on cadavers. If those tests yield positive results, they will go on to test the device on living humans.
Their long-term goals are to compare the 3-D ultrasound images with CT and MR images, and build a 3-D transducer from scratch. They also want to eventually explore other potential applications for the device, such as screening breast masses and skin lesions.