Stroke is the leading cause of death in China, and it strikes earlier in life there than it does in Western countries.
Professor of Engineering at the University of Waikato Dr Yifan Chen is part of an international team that’s being awarded about £1 million (NZ$1.95m) funding to develop a portable stroke detection and monitoring scanner based on microwave medical imaging technology.
The funding has come from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), with King's College London, and University of Electronic Science and Technology of China the main universities involved.
Professor Chen says money received from the GCRF must be used to address problems in developing countries. “But of course, long term any research and subsequent products could have application anywhere. In New Zealand for example, having portable diagnostic technology could be a real asset for people living in remote areas.”
According to the Ministry of Health, stroke is New Zealand’s second largest killer – about 2500 people every year. It is also the biggest cause of adult disability in New Zealand.
“Strokes need to be diagnosed as early as possible to be successfully treated. The sooner the better,” says Professor Chen. And he says it’s also important to know if the stroke is the result of a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel (ischemic stroke) or a break in the wall of a blood vessel in the brain (haemorrhagic stroke).
In China, many residents in rural areas cannot afford treatment for strokes and often those who can pay arrive at hospital too late for effective treatment. “Ideally, we want to develop a low-cost portable device that can detect stroke type earlier and therefore enable faster treatment, and which could also be used to monitor progress once a patient is discharged from a treatment centre.”
The first stage of the three-year project will mostly take place in the UK and will focus on imaging simulations with computational brain models to optimise antennas and algorithms. Then the scientists will produce state-of-the-art head phantoms to be used in test situations, followed by a prototype that can be used in clinical trials.
“This is where I come in,” Professor Chen says. “My main role will be prototyping the microwave scanner as well as production and commercialisation once the scanner is at a stage that it can be sold and distributed.
“Following prototyping we need to refine the prototype into a device that will be low-cost, portable and easy to use. We are working with a technology company in China, ET Medical, which promises delivery of the device faster than usual pathways to clinical use.”
Professor Chen’s other research interests include ICT-inspired biomedicine, and non-invasive microwave breast screening. He is the co-ordinator of the European FP7 “CoNHealth” project on intelligent medical ICT, a working group leader of the European COST Action “MiMed” on microwave medical imaging, and an associate investigator of the New Zealand Consortium for Medical Device Technologies (CMDT) and MedTech Centre of Research Excellence (MedTech CoRE).
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