Defence radar comes to aid of stroke victims

Signal processing techniques used in military radar systems could help cut deaths from strokes, British researchers believe

Medical physicists at the University of Leicester say they have found a way of improving early diagnosis of strokes by adapting technology developed for defence applications. The same approach could provide a more effective way of monitoring victims as they recover.

The breakthrough would address the third most common cause of death and the most common cause of adult disability in the UK. A quarter of strokes are the result of blood clots or other foreign bodies known as emboli blocking small blood vessels in the brain. These obstructions can originate from a number of sources such as the heart or from plaques in arteries in the head or neck due to vascular disease.

The method was developed by Leicester researcher Joanne Cowe, a graduate in electrical and electronic engineering who worked on military systems before embarking on a PhD. Her investigation into how radar could improve the operation of medical ultrasound devices focused on ways of detecting obstructions in blood vessels and revealed the extent to which useful information can be obtained by processing an ultrasound signal.

Cowe believes that as well as reducing stroke death and disability rates, research into the detection of emboli and vascular disease using ultrasound, has the potential to generate big savings to the £2.3bn the NHS currently spends on treatment every year.

"Doppler ultrasound can be used for the detection of emboli in the cerebral circulation and can also be used to monitor the blood flow through vessels to assess if there are any problems such as blockages," she said.

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