Brain implant could warn of the onset of dementia
November 12, 2012
A new moisture-proof sensor has been developed, to monitor cerebral pressure that can lead to dementia. It was created by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT in St. Ingbert in Germany. The sensor, that is similar to pressure sensors used by the auto industry, represents a shift from previous implants that allowed moisture to penetrate and destroy the device.
The device is one centimeter high and two centimeters wide, although it's expected to be scaled down in future versions. The German researchers replaced its outer case – previously made with synthetic materials – with pliable high-grade metal. Pressure changes in the brain will cause that case to bend, and this information is then transmitted to the pressure sensor inside. Values measured will subsequently be transmitted to a reading device outside the patient’s body through a radio impulse. That reading device also provides power to the sensor, so it requires no batteries of its own.
The new sensor could represent a significant leap forward for patients and health professionals who, for some time now, have been relying on wireless intracranial pressure probes that can be read through radio wave transmission. The issue with such probes has been one of moisture – the permeability of the synthetic casing means the sensor is destroyed in a matter of days or even hours. With the moisture problem out of the way, the new chip will reportedly last months or even years, without the patient having to undergo another operation.
Currently, making the diagnosis is a challenge that requires complex, demanding medical care for people who are prone to a rise in intracranial pressure. It involves a procedure to insert the probe from the outside, going through the skullcap to get to the brain ... and here’s the catch. Due to fluctuations in cerebral pressure, extensive measurements are necessary in order to read a definitive diagnosis of this disease, keeping patients in hospital for days or even weeks. With the new sensor, the patient only needs to come to the clinic for a brief measurement appointment, while treatment of the disease itself varies according to the underlying causes.
Scientists don’t know why cerebral pressure suddenly increases in certain people, but they do know that it disrupts blood circulation, leading to parts of the brain dying off as happens in a stroke. The condition is so common that it could be the cause of up to 10 percent of cases of dementia in Europe.