Portable Brain Scanner Saves Time, Neurons in ICU

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Brain Scanner

The improved safety and time saved by a new mobile brain scanner may translate to vastly improved outcomes for patients with severe traumatic brain injuries, say Baylor College of Medicine neurosurgeons who treat patients at the Harris County Hospital District's Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston.

A mobile version of computed tomography (CT), sometimes called CAT scan, is capable of generating high-quality images on par with conventional flat-bed CT scanners. The technology uses special x-ray equipment to obtain image data from different angles and then processes the information through a computer to show a cross-section of body tissues and organs.

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"Patients in critical condition are really too sick to be transported to radiology when they need a scan because they're ventilated and receiving various intravenous fluids and medications that cannot be safely interrupted," said Dr. Claudia Robertson, professor of neurosurgery at BCM and medical director of the Neurosurgery Intensive Care Unit at Ben Taub General Hospital. "We can now perform the scan at their bedside without taking them out of a setting where they're being monitored very closely by ICU doctors and nurses."

Time is of the essence in cases of traumatic head injuries, where prompt detection of the swelling or bleeding in the brain is critical. For every minute that swelling or bleeding interferes with normal blood flow to the brain, hundreds of thousands of neurons, billions of synapses, and miles of axonal fibers are irreparably damaged. Robertson estimates that the portable scanner can save the ICU staff up to an hour, enabling a doctor to take appropriate measures more quickly.

"Transporting a critically ill patient to the radiology section of a hospital to be scanned with conventional CT requires a doctor, a nurse, a respiratory therapist, and someone to push the bed

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