Dr Barry Dixon, ICU doctor at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, has invented a world-first method for medical staff to monitor oxygen levels in a patient’s brain without cutting a hole in their skull.
He was inspired to create the device after he witnessed first-hand instances of patients sustaining brain damage while in hospital.
ICU patients who are recovering from a condition such as a stroke or a traumatic brain injury – which have a 50 per cent fatality rate and leave 67 per cent of survivors with long-term disability – often suffer further brain damage caused by low oxygen supply – known as hypoxia.
“The patients in ICU are on ventilators, they’re unconscious and it’s quite hard to know if their brain is getting better or getting worse,” Dr Dixon said.
Dr Dixon said the only method currently available to ICU doctors was to either test a patient’s reflexes intermittently for signs of hypoxia – or to surgically cut a hole in their skull. A method that is both risky and costly.
“It’s very hard for us to know it’s happening because they’re unconscious, they can’t tell us and all we can do is examine their reflexes which is a very, very blunt way to check.
“There is a strong need to monitor brains and do it in a non-invasive manner and continuously, and at the moment there isn’t really anything other than what we’re developing.”
Dr Dixon has developed the technology over a span of 15 years through a long journey of trial and error using light to capture a pulsatile signal from the surface of the brain below the skin.
“This unique device essentially gives us a brain pulse oximeter. This is the first time we’ve been able to develop this technology further to tell us what is happening below the skin in the brain," Dr Dixon said.
The device is hoped to be ready for market by 2024.
If you would like to support Dr Dixon's research visit: https://www.stvfoundation.org.au/donate/svhm