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More than a year ago now, I experienced a life-changing event. I had a small cyst removed from my brain that was blocking the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which began wreaking havoc with my balance, my ability to swallow liquids and my memory.
I was lucky. Except for the balance, these abilities have returned, and the balance is improving day by day.
This event made me especially interested in some recent research that promises to provide a new medical device that can glide through the winding pathways of the brain’s blood vessels in order to remove blood clots and other blockages, and to deliver medication quickly.
Had this research been a little more advanced, this device would have made my outcome even better than it’s been.
New technology will help prevent strokes
Xuanhe Zhao, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, is part of a team working to develop a guidewire that can navigate the narrow, winding pathways of the brain’s blood vessels that can deliver clot reducing therapies in response to stroke or other brain blockages.
Right now, the best technology we have to clear blood clots and other blockages in the brain is a guidewire inserted by a surgeon into a main artery, usually in the leg or groin.
Guided by X-rays, the surgeon then manually rotates the wire up into the damaged brain vessel. A catheter can then be threaded up along the wire to deliver drugs or clot-retrieval devices to the affected region.
This is a physically exhausting procedure, and one that few surgeons are trained to perform.
The robotic thread has three advantages over the currently-used procedure: first, it is guided by magnets; second, it is coated with hydrogel, a substance that allows it to pass through blood vessels smoothly, with less friction.
The advantage for the surgeon is that they would not need to be in the room, exposed o X-ray radiation. The robotic thread could be remotely manipulated.
Here is a short video that demonstrates the robotic thread’s potential capabilities:
Why is this development important to you?
According to the World Health Organization, 15 million people suffer stroke worldwide each year. Of these, 5 million die and another 5 million are permanently disabled.
The risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade beyond age 55. More than three-quarters of strokes occur in people 65 and older.
“If acute stroke can be treated within the first 90 minutes or so, patients’ survival rates could increase significantly,” says Professor Zhao of MIT. “If we could design a device to reverse blood vessel blockage within this ‘golden hour,’ we could potentially avoid permanent brain damage. That’s our hope.”
For women, in particular, there are both unique warning signs and unique nutritional interventions that can help.
I was lucky. I got help within that “golden hour.” But mine would have been what’s known as a silent stroke, meaning I had none of the classic symptoms, especially common with an ischemic stroke (the bursting of a blood vessel in the brain).
Those symptoms are:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing or blurred vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1- immediately.