_MEDICINE Biotechnology

_Operation: Crucial Upgrade

Drexel biomedical engineers are helping to upgrade a lifesaving device used by the military to instantly screen for brain injuries.


Since 2008, a handheld brain-scanning device called Infrascanner has been saving lives on the front lines. But, like most technologies, it periodically needs an upgrade.


Head injury outcomes improve significantly if treated within an hour after an injury.

Drexel engineers have been working with InfraScan Inc., a Philadelphia-based medical technology firm specializing in brain injury diagnostics, to design this life-saving device. Recently the team was invited to design the next-generation model that the military can use to assess head injuries in the field.

The upgrades call for adding more tissue-scanning capabilities and field-testing protocols to help first responders diagnose and triage traumatic brain injuries — the wounds that account for nearly half of all combat deaths.

“Patient outcomes can improve significantly if treated within the first hour after an injury — known as the ‘golden hour,’” says Baruch Ben Dor, president and CEO of InfraScan. “The early identification of a brain hematoma, swelling and decreasing tissue oxygen levels can play a significant role in facilitating transportation of critically injured patients to facilities, which can both verify Infrascanner’s early screening and offer immediate surgical intervention.”

The device, which uses near-infrared light to detect blood pooling in the brain, will be modified to also pick up local changes in tissue oxygenation — a more deadly outcome of a head injury. The Drexel engineers, who designed and implemented the algorithms that went into the original Infrascanner when it was developed in the mid 2000s, will adjust them to also pick up signs of edema — swelling of the brain.

In addition to adding the new programming, the team will also help give Infrascanner a more rugged hardware design so it can stand up to use in the field.

InfraScan signed a $3.7 million contract with the research centers of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Navy to redesign the device, which has been used by the military since 2008 and has been commercially available since 2013.