Fiber-optic sensor monitors blood flow continuously during surgery

The fiber-optic sensor monitors blood flow through the aorta during prolonged and often dangerous intensive care and surgical procedures, even in preterm infants.

The new device can measure continuous and instantaneous blood flow using optical heating at a low power input with an LED light source.
The new device can measure continuous and instantaneous blood flow using optical heating at a low power input with an LED light source.
Flinders University

Researchers at Flinders University (Bedford Park, South Australia) have developed a fiber-optic sensor to monitor blood flow through the aorta during prolonged and often dangerous intensive care and surgical procedures, even in preterm infants. The continuous cardiac flow monitoring probe is a safe way to give a real-time measurement of blood flow.

Strategic Professor John Arkwright, an expert in using fiber-optic technologies in medical diagnostics who led the work, says the device has the potential to be a game-changerparticularly for very young babies, which are particularly susceptible to sudden drops in blood pressure and oxygen delivery to their vital organs. 

"It's a far more responsive measurement compared to traditional blood flow monitoringand without life-threatening delays in the period 'snapshot' provided by current blood flow practices using ultrasound or thermodilution," Arkright explains. 

Scott Morris, a neonatal expert and coinvestigator from the Flinders Medical Centre Neonatal Unit and Flinders University College of Medicine and Public Health, says the new sensor-catheter device promises to deliver accurate blood flow information in critically ill patients, from preterm babies to cardiac bypass patients. 

"This tiny device, which could even be used in preterm infants, has the potential to be far superior to the intermittent measure of averaged blood flow delivered by traditional methods, which generally only show time averaged flow every 30 minutes or so," Morris says. 

Related: Camera system optically monitors premature babies without skin contact

A provision patent has been filed for the device, which is seeking industry partners for further development. Chief investigator Albert Ruiz-Vargas hopes the device will be picked up for further development, and be introduced into regular intensive care and surgical procedures. 

"The proof-of-concept prototype is potentially a low-cost device ,which has passed initial testing in a heart-lung machine," Ruiz-Vargas says. "It can be inserted through a small keyhole aperture in the skin into the femoral artery in individuals where heart function is compromised and is so small it can even measure small changes in flow in the tiny blood vessels of infants. It's a simple design, which can give readouts similar to a pulsating heartbeat response on a laptop or nearby screen." 

The research team says that more research is now required to determine how the sensor will behave under more physiological conditions and to examine different encapsulations to comply with human safety. 

Full details of the work appear in the Journal of Biophotonics.

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