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Australia to test breakthrough stroke treatment machine

Xinhua, February 4, 2015 Adjust font size:

Australia has been chosen as the first site in the world to test a portable stroke-diagnosing machine which could greatly help up to 80 percent of patients, it was reported on Wednesday.

The sudden brain traumas usually cause severe physical disabilities and are often fatal.

Fast treatment within four hours is the key to reducing the effects of strokes, but patients have to be transported to hospital for CT scans, and globally many patients are not correctly diagnosed in that time.

Now Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology and the Medfield Diagnostics company have developed a machine which allows paramedics to diagnose patients at the scene - and immediately administer the appropriate treatment.

This could greatly reduce the long-term effects of the stroke, as well as preventing fatalities.

The portable device, called Strokefinder, is a helmet which is placed on a patient's head, and uses microwaves to diagnose whether they have had a blood clot or a bleeding hemorrhagic stroke.

The world-first Australian field trial will see ambulances in the Hunter region north of Sydney equipped with Strokefinders to determine how effective they could be.

"This trial will be the next step in the research and development of the device, and to see how it performs in the cut and thrust of front line field work," a spokesman for the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) told Xinhua on Wednesday.

"We have excellent existing stroke diagnostic and treatment facilities, so we'll be able to compare existing results with those of the Strokefinder helmets."

"We were also chosen because we are doing world class research in conjunction with China's Harbin Medical University into an anti- blood clotting drug - and the two areas of research go hand in hand."

There are two types of strokes. Blood clots which starve the brain of oxygen and kill 2 million brain cells per minute until blood-thinning drugs are administered, account for 80 percent of strokes.

The second is brain-bleeding hemorrhagic strokes, which typically account for the remaining 20 percent of strokes, according to HMRI research.

The issue facing ambulance paramedics when they attend to stroke victims is that anti-clotting blood thinning drugs can be fatal for haemorrhagic strokes.

That means patients must be transported to the nearest hospital equipped with the necessary CT scanning equipment to wait for diagnosis.

The Hunter region's main hospital is in the city of Newcastle, and the region has many outlying rural areas which can mean long ambulance transport times.

HMRI director Professor Michael Nilsson said the trial could be of enormous benefit, as the quicker treatment is administered, the less damage patients suffer.

"To have this (device) placed on the head, already in the ambulance, it allows for much earlier diagnosis than we currently have," he said. "For the first time we will go directly into the ambulance situation."

The portability of the diagnostic helmet meant it could be taken straight to the patient, and Professor Nilsson said patients would then be treated en-route to hospital.

"You can imagine the challenge for people out in rural and remote areas, around diagnosis and early detection," he said. " That is really crucial and important when you have a stroke - to detect if it is a stroke and is it a bleeding or a clot?"

Senior staff neurologist at Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital, Professor Chris Levi, said time-saving measures are critical.

"The faster we begin thrombolysis treatment to dissolve the clot, the more brain can be salvaged," he said. "However, we must be absolutely sure that it's not a haemorrhagic stroke, which occurs around 20 per cent of the time because the treatment paths are vastly different."

The HMRI is also working with the Harbin Medical University in China's northern Heilongjiang Province to determine whether an existing anti-clotting drug called Tenecteplase can be used on stroke victims.

It is currently used as a heart medication, but is not approved for treatment of strokes, but is now being tested in Harbin.

Researchers at both institutions are confident it will be a major new breakthrough drug for victims suffering blood clot strokes. Endi