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Bluetooth device to save stroke victims

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LONDON, England -- A Australian electrical engineer is developing a portable brain scanner that could help prevent people from suffering brain damage after they have a stroke.

Dr. Alistair McEwan, from University College London, has been awarded a grant of £140,000 ($253,000) by the charity Action Medical Research to develop the device, Britain's Press Association reported.

The wireless scanner will use Bluetooth technology and will be linked to a computer onboard an ambulance.

Paramedics will use the device to scan patients who are suffering a suspected stroke before they arrive at hospital, meaning life-saving treatment may be given immediately, PA said.

McEwan said his device would be lightweight, portable and cheap to operate.

"My plan is to design a device that can be simply placed on the patient's head to quickly provide an accurate assessment to allow treatment to start immediately," he told PA.

"For strokes, speed is really of the essence so beginning treatment as soon as possible will save lives and unnecessary brain damage."

His device will use Electrical Impedance Tomography (EIT), a medical imaging method in which images are produced quickly using electrodes placed around the body, to detect changes or abnormalities in the brain.

New clot-busting drugs allow some stroke patients to make a full recovery if treated within three hours of their attack.

But before administering the drugs, doctors must be sure of the cause of the stroke, which can be due to either a bleed or a blood clot in the brain.

In some instances giving patients the clot-busting drugs could make damage to the brain worse.

The only way to determine the cause of stroke at present is for the patient to have an MRI or CT scan, both of which can take up valuable time in hospital when every second counts to keep brain damage to a minimum.

McEwan told PA he hoped his invention would help solve this problem, enabling ambulance staff to administer treatment before the patient arrives at hospital, and thus helping reduce the number of people affected by stroke.

Each year more than 130,000 people in England and Wales have a stroke and there are around 60,000 deaths, PA reported. Strokes are the largest single cause of severe disability in England and Wales, with more than 250,000 people being affected at any one time. In the U.S. 700,000 people suffer strokes every year.

McEwan said he was initially concentrating on the diagnosis of strokes and epileptic seizures, but the device could have more widespread uses.

He said it was feasible that the technology could be used in the imaging of migraines, tumors, heart, lung and liver conditions.

"This is just the beginning. It's possible, for example, that images could be sent over the Internet to the hospital from the ambulance, and be reported by a radiologist, so that the hospital can be prepared for the patient before they arrive," he said.

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