Explore new frontiers

Dr Robert Marchbanks, consultant clinical scientist

Detecting life threatening head injuries and infections often requires surgery or a painful spinal procedure. I wanted to find a way to detect life-threatening head injuries and infections without risk and discomfort to the patient.

Dr Tony Birch, a clinical measurement physicist, and I worked together to develop a pioneering painless brain pressure test that could do just that via a set of special headphones.

The technique involves a patient wearing headphones with an ear plug linked to a computer. This enables us to measure fluid pressure in the skull (known as intracranial pressure) via a channel which links the inner ear with the brain.

As fluids in the ear and brain are connected, a change in pressure in the brain is reflected by a corresponding change in the ear – which can signal the need for intervention. We hope this will transform the diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as meningitis and head trauma injuries, as well as the monitoring and management of patients who are in comas.

We were delighted when the device was adopted by NASA to analyse brain pressure levels in astronauts to help tackle space-related visual problems and sickness. It’s even been tested by Tim Peake.

There may also be a military application where it could be used to distinguish between head injuries and post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning from combat zones.

It’s quite something to be given the freedom and the backing by your employers to be able to advance medicine and treatment in such a revolutionary way. To explore your passion and know that you have changed lives forever. It’s something of which Tony and I are immeasurably proud.

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