One of the R&D Magazine‘s prestigious 100 Awards for innovation was just presented to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for developing a technology that is capable of detectingt a pneumothorax (deflated lung, for peasants). Ohio-based Electrosonics Medical Inc., which licensed the micropower-impulse radar (MIR) technology from LLNL, is trying to commercialize it into a woking product, that one day might save lives of people in the ER, or a soldiers in the field:
The pneumothorax detector system consists of two components. A control module provides power for the circuitry and MIR sensor, and also houses a processing system to analyze incoming data and detect the presence or absence of a pneumothorax. A probe unit is connected to the main control module and an antenna for sending out the MIR pulse, and detecting the reflected signal. Novel, high speed data acquisition and processing electronics in the control module acquire the data in real time.
The system detects the pneumothorax by analyzing the reflected MIR pulses. Reflections are affected by the types of materials encountered, and will be especially heightened by a tissue-air interface, such as will be encountered in the presence of a pneumothorax. The output of the device can be either a simple yes/no indicator, or other graphical means of estimating the volume of the pneumothorax.
Pneumothorax is currently diagnosed using either standard x-ray or ultrasound imaging systems available in any hospital. These systems are not inherently portable. Although ultrasound systems are becoming more portable they are still larger than Electrosonic Medical’s system, they require a full image display, and are significantly more expensive. Therefore, the Electrosonic Medical system has clear differentiation as a low-cost portable unit. Obvious potential markets for this system would be EMT units, and as part of a portable military battlefield medical assessment kit.
An additional differentiating feature is the ability of the Electrosonic Medical system to perform real-time monitoring. Pneumothorax is a well-known complication of many thoracic surgeries, and is therefore routinely checked in the ICU during recovery. By performing real-time monitoring, the presence of a pneumothorax can be detected earlier, and therefore be treated more quickly.