Brain helmet delivers real-time, 3D ultrasound images

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A prototype brain helmet that provides real-time ultrasound images of major blood vessels may enable emergency personnel to quickly scan the brains of potential stroke victims, according to a team of Duke University bioengineers who developed the device.

Using 3D ultrasound technology that they had earlier developed, the Duke team built a prototype device that positions ultrasound transducers against the temples on either side of the head. A Duke graduate student, Brooks Lindsey, designed the system, which allows a computer to assemble both streams of ultrasound images into a 3D color movie of the vessels and blood flow within the brain.

"We were able to demonstrate the feasibility of an ultrasound brain helmet producing multiple, simultaneous, real-time, three-dimensional images of the brain's blood vessel distribution," said Lindsey , who presented the results of the latest experiments at the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers' annual Medical Imaging scientific sessions in Orlando, Fla., this week.

Currently, prior to tPA treatment for a stroke patient, physicians must scan the brain in a hospital with MRI or CT to ensure the stroke is not the result of a bleed in the brain, which can be time-consuming. The researchers said that it takes an average of four hours for a potential stroke patient to receive a CT scan, compared with an estimated 15 to 30 minutes for a brain helmet scan.

"We can foresee a time in the near future when the brain helmet could transmit its images from a remote hospital, or from an ambulance, through cellular networks or the Internet to the neurological team at a stroke center," said bioengineer Stephen Smith, director of the Duke University Ultrasound Transducer Group and senior member of the research team. "Speed is important because the only approved medical treatment for stroke must be given within three hours of the first symptoms."

The team is now designing the next generation prototype with an eye toward reducing the size of its components and improving the efficiency of the signal from the transducers.

The National Institutes of Health provides funding for the team's research.