Next time you bump your head, a small, $50 device that detects brain trauma and internal bleeding could save your life.
The device – which was developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley – won't give those injured a photo like an X-ray, CAT scan or an MRI would, but according to developer Boris Rubinsky, it can determine whether someone needs to go to the hospital or not. In developing countries, that knowledge might be enough to save a life, he says.
"The majority of the world's population doesn't have access to imaging we take for granted in the United States," he says. "Many children will have a fall or other injury that can be treated within a few hours of them being detected. But when these injuries occur in rural areas, there's no way of deciding whether or not they need to go to the hospital."
The device looks a bit like a pair of headphones. It essentially consists of two coils, one that transmits a wireless signal through the head to a receiver coil on the other side. A computer algorithm then decodes the signal it receives. The device can determine whether the tissue is healthy, has a blood clot, a tumor or is bleeding.
Rubinsky tested the device in a Mexican hospital with 46 healthy adults and eight patients who had head trauma or brain damage, and it worked in each instance. The device can be fitted to work on any part of the body, not just the brain, and it's designed to be able to detect internal bleeding in women who have just given birth.
This isn't the first low-cost medical device the team has designed—several years ago, it developed the first ultrasound technology that could be used with a standard cellphone. The internal bleeding device is essentially a CT machine with the imaging portions stripped out, making it extremely cheap. Rubinsky says it is about as technologically complex and as expensive as a blood pressure monitor, which usually cost under $50.
"What we have been trying to do for many years is to find alternative ways to do conventional medical diagnostics for much cheaper. This is one of those technologies," he says. "The way I see it, perhaps one household or one nurse in a village will have one of these that can be lent to neighbors."