A Better Way to Measure Brain Injury

Elevated intracranial pressure (ICP)—pressure of the brain and cerebrospinal fluid inside the skull—can cause severe harm in children and adults. Because current methods of measuring or monitoring ICP are highly invasive, doctors are often reluctant to measure ICP, even when the information could be useful.

Thomas Heldt PhD ’04, the Hermann L.F. von Helmholtz Career Development Professor, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and a member of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, is leading a team to develop a noninvasive measurement of ICP in patients who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, strokes, brain tumors, hydrocephalus, and other conditions. In collaboration with surgeons at Boston Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Heldt’s group is refining an algorithm that estimates ICP based on two measurements that can be taken noninvasively. The first measurement reveals how quickly blood moves through the arteries in a patient’s brain. The second produces a waveform of arterial blood pressure.

Heldt and his colleagues are collecting baseline data from patients who have undergone the invasive method of measuring ICP. They will then test their new technology and algorithm against those results. Ultimately, Heldt’s method is intended to be portable, enabling physicians and EMTs to bring the technology to the site of an accident and immediately assess whether a patient has suffered a serious brain injury.