How a skin sensor spot checks hydrocephalus, evolves healthcare technology

Researchers from Evanston, Ill.-based Northwestern University developed a Band-Aid-like sensor that tracks treatment progress for patients with hydrocephalus, according to Northwestern Now.

Here are four things to know:

1. Hydrocephalus is a condition involving excess fluid buildup in the brain that affects about 1 in 1,000 people annually. Patients with the potentially life-threatening condition often require expensive brain scans, radiation and sometimes surgery. The most common treatment for hydrocephalus is using a shunt to drain excess brain fluids into other parts of the body. The shunt method has a 100 percent failure rate over 10 years and treatment costs $50,000 per patient per year.

2. When a shunt malfunctions, a patient may experience headaches, nausea, lethargy or other life-threatening complications. To assess whether the shunt is working properly, patients must undergo a CT scan or surgery. However the wireless sensor researchers created can detect if the shunt is malfunctioning within five minutes. The sensor can determine this by reading the temperature of the patient's skin, which will be packed with fluid if the shunt is not working properly.      

3. The device uses a small rechargeable battery and is Bluetooth-enabled so it can "talk" to a smart device and deliver readings through an Android app. Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine conducted a study to test the device, which is outlined in a research letter published in Science Translational Medicine. For the study, researchers equipped five hydrocephalus patients with the sensor. Though the sensor is in early stages of development, the clinical trial proved the device can effectively collect and read heat signatures unique to hydrocephalus.

"We envision you could do this while you're sitting in the waiting room waiting to see the doctor," said Siddharth Krishnan, PhD student, co-lead author and researcher at Chicago-based Rogers Research Group. "A nurse could come and place it on you and five minutes later, you have a measurement."

4. Chicago-based Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital will soon conduct a larger pediatric clinical trial using the device.

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