May 8, 2009 A multi-purpose “lab on a tube” developed by Engineers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) could provide significant advance in the treatment of traumatic brain injury. A serious knock to the head results in not only the initial damage, but a second wave of injury caused by swelling and lack of oxygen among other factors. Currently, the status of these injuries can only be intermittently examined, but the “smart sensor” gives medicos the capability to continuously monitor crucial physiological characteristics.

In addition to the monitoring functions, the “smart sensor” can also be used to deliver medications and relieve pressure on the brain by draining cerebrospinal fluid.

Work was started on the device after physicians at the Neurotrauma Center at the UC Neuroscience Institute expressed a need for a multimodal monitoring device for neurotrauma patients. They also assisted in its design and creation.

The tube is integrated with spirally-rolled pressure, temperature, oxygen and glucose microsensors and it can be modified in the future to monitor other parameters as well. The device has sensors inside the tube, where they can measure the biochemistry of cerebrospinal fluid, as well as on the outside, where changes within the brain tissue are measured. The original prototype is 11cm (4.3-inches) in length and 1.7mm (0.66-inches) in diameter, but is already evolving into a smaller, more sophisticated device.

The multifunctional role of the “lab on a tube” means that the number of holes that must be drilled into the patient’s skull is reduced from two to one, and the ability to expand or contract the tube’s diameter when necessary means the potential trauma associated with existing technologies is minimized.

The tube is under provisional patent application and should be ready for testing in an animal model within the next few months. The technical lowdown on the device can be found at Lab on a Chip website.

Darren Quick