A helmet that can run fast EEG scans at accident scenes or in ambulances could increase the survival rate of patients with head injuries.
The developer of the device, Norwegian company Smartbrain which works with EEG-based diagnoses, came up with the idea to develop a portable system that could be used in the field to detect concussion at an early stage.
The helmet could be particularly useful at sporting events or for military use where concussions and other head injuries are relatively common.
"Our system, called EmerEEG, is special because it offers the opportunity to run EEGs really quickly", said Haldor Sjåheim at Smartbrain.
"The diagnostics and outcomes for many patient groups in the field of emergency medicine will be improved, especially in cases of head trauma and strokes."
"Currently, we can't be sure of a patient's status before some time has passed – when he or she has arrived at the hospital. This can result in delayed injury and prolonged periods of convalescence.”
Although the helmet is relatively large and heavy at 4.5kg, and acknowledged by its creators to be reminiscent of something that might be seen in 'Star Wars', it is an initial prototype that is expected to be slimmed down for large-scale production."In the development and testing phase we have to work on a bigger scale and with more materials", saidFrodeStrisland at Scandinavian research organisationSINTEF. "But experience tells us that it will be possible to make the system light and portable."
An EEG (electroencephalogram) test involves placing electrodes around the patient's head to measure electrical signals emitted by the brain.
Traditionally, such tests are time-consuming and require a lot of preparation to ensure the signals recorded are adequate. A cap containing 19 electrodes is placed on the patient's head and a conducting gel injected at each of the electrode points to achieve a good electrical contact.
Interpretation of the signals is also a demanding process, and can usually only be carried out by a hospital doctor who specialises in EEGs.
But the helmet is simpler, with fast assembly and automatic recording of results.
An elastic membrane inside the helmet ensures that the same pressure is applied to all parts of the scalp. If a negative pressure is then applied within the helmet, the membrane will inflate to enable it to be placed on the patient's head.
A conducting gel is then released to establish electrical contact and signal recording can begin after about a minute.
To determine whether a patient has been injured, the results are compared with a database of signals typically emitted by people known to have head injuries. Based on this comparison, the system assigns a score indicating the likelihood of the patient having suffered a head injury.
Since the system is completely automatic it will be possible for ambulance personnel to use the system unassisted and the EEG can be transferred wirelessly to a hospital so that specialists can assess the patient and take decisions about treatment.
"The EmerEEG system we have developed is all-inclusive", said Strisland. "Simply getting 19 electrodes automatically to establish contact with a wide variety of head shapes is a challenge in itself."
"For use in ambulances and at accident scenes the helmet has to be robust and able to withstand rough treatment. It must also function under all kinds of weather conditions.”
The team have also suggested other uses for the technology such as the computer games market or a brain-computer interface system.