Stroke Finder helmet to be trialled in John Hunter Hospital emergency department.

Potential: HMRI director Michael Nilsson and Mikael Persson with the Stroke Finder helmet to be trialled in the Hunter. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.
Potential: HMRI director Michael Nilsson and Mikael Persson with the Stroke Finder helmet to be trialled in the Hunter. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.

THEY say “time is brains” after a stroke, and a new device to be trialled in the Hunter could improve patient outcomes by fast-tracking their diagnosis and treatment.

The HMRI trial, which will begin at John Hunter Hospital’s emergency department, will be the first time the portable Stroke Finder helmet will be studied outside of Sweden, where the prototype was developed.

Hunter New England Health stroke leader, Professor Chris Levi, said if the helmet proved to be accurate and reliable, there could be a “paradigm shift” in the approach to acute stroke care.

“At the moment we don’t have any proven technology that is readily portable and easy to deploy in the field to identify strokes,” Professor Levi said.

“This would be the first of its type in the world if we can prove that it is accurate, and it could have a major impact on how we deliver stroke care.

“If we can demonstrate that it works, it will enable us to start treatment in the ambulance, and allow us to intervene earlier.

“The earlier you can start treatment, the better the outcome tends to be.”

The helmet was conceived by Sweden’s Professor Mikael Persson, a biomedical engineer from Chalmers University of Technology, while studying the impact of mobile phone usage on the brain. It takes multiple brain measurements in 60 seconds using microwave technology, similar to that of mobile phones, to determine if there is any bleeding.

Professor Levi expects it would take about two years to collect enough data to “convince” themselves the Stroke Finder was “100 per cent” accurate.

He said it would all depend on how it stacked up against the “gold standard” imaging that is CT and MRI scanning. Two helmets would be initially used at John Hunter, before the trial expanded to the ambulance service.

Professor Levi said there were about 50,000 strokes every year nationally. It was the second leading cause of death, and the leading cause of disability in the adult community in Australia.

“In the Hunter Region, we have about 1000 strokes a year, and John Hunter takes about 700 of those. So we get about two or three every day,” he said.

“If your face drops, your arm becomes weak, your speech goes, dial Triple O and get in quick. That’s the basic message. And maybe in a few year’s time, we’ll have an ambulance coming with the Stroke Finder so that we will be better prepared for you when you arrive.” 

The HMRI Sydney Foundation helped secure funding for the project, including a significant donation from Dr Jerry Schwartz, through the Schwartz Foundation, for the acute care pilot study.

The Stroke Finder study was launched at a HMRI Sydney Foundation event on Thursday.

Professor Persson told Fairfax Media he hoped that if the helmet proved to be reliable and accurate in the international trials, the portable technology could also be deployed in remote and disadvantaged areas to help triage and treat stroke patients.

“The results we have so far from Sweden are promising, but it will only be after we do this big international trial, of which the Newcastle group is a very important part, that we will know what the performance of the system will be,” Professor Persson said.