Light beam replaces blood test during human heart surgery.


During surgery, physicians are wary of the patient’s blood coagulating, or clotting, too quickly. A clot can lead to life-threatening conditions such as stroke or pulmonary embolism. Coagulation is of particular concern during cardiovascular surgery, when a clot can shut down the heart-lung machine used to circulate the patient’s blood.  Now, researchers from the University of Central Florida develop a way to use light to continuously monitor a surgical patient’s blood, for the first time providing a real-time status during life-and-death operations.  The team states that their novel technology uses an optical fiber to beam light through a patient’s blood to interpret the signals which bounce back, and believe that it could replace the need for doctors to wait while blood is drawn from a patient and tested.  The opensource study is published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Previous studies show that, historically, doctors administer blood-thinning medication to prevent coagulation. However, every 20-30 minutes, blood must be withdrawn and taken to the lab for a test which can take up to 10 minutes. That’s a slow process with gaps of time without up-to-date information, hindering operations which can last four hours or more.  The current study develops an optical-fibre-based tool which can be directly incorporated into standard vascular-access devices for real-time monitoring of blood coagulability in the operating room.

The current study develops a machine with an optical fiber which can tap directly into the tubes of a heart-lung machine. The group tested the technology during cardiac surgeries on 10 infants at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.  Results show that the optical fiber beams light at the blood passing through the tube and detects the light as it bounces back.  Data findings show that the machine constantly interprets the light’s back-scatter to determine how rapidly red blood cells are vibrating, slow vibration is a sign blood is coagulating and a blood-thinner may be needed.

The lab state that their technology can alert doctors at the first sign of clotting, and provide nonstop information throughout a long procedure.  They go on to add that it provides continuous feedback for the surgeon to make a decision on medication whilst supplying continuous, real-time monitoring not available currently.

The team surmise that they have developed a light-based method which can monitor blood coagulation continuously in real-time during a clinical procedure in the operating room.  For the future, the researchers state that they absolutely see their technique having potential in the intensive care setting, where it can be part of saving the lives of critically ill patients.

Source: University of Central Florida

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