Hydrocephalus is characterized by abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain, which leads to increased intracranial pressure (ICP). As ICP levels become elevated, the risk for brain damage and death increases. Of the two treatments, shunting is by far the most common, but a number of complications are associated with shunts. About 50% of all shunts become infected, which necessitates additional surgeries to replace the shunt. In addition to infection, shunts can become disconnected, become blocked, or malfunction for a variety of reasons. When a problem with the shunt or increased ICP is suspected, patients must undergo CT scans, which, over time, expose them to dangerous levels of radiation. Symptoms that indicate shunt malfunction are also symptoms of many other common illnesses. As a result, many children are exposed to huge doses of radiation at great expense and considerable emotional trauma whenever they contract common childhood diseases. Shunt operations have a 5% chance of brain infection. Reducing the number of shunt surgeries by reducing the number of functioning shunts operated on would reduce the risk of serious brain injury. At present, neurosurgeons have no way to test a shunt once it has been implanted.
Our design uses optoelectronics to monitor the flow of cerebrospinal fluid as well as the presence of foreign matter such as proteins and blood. The results of monitoring can be obtained by interrogating the body over a wireless link. Shunt operation could be monitored in a doctor’s office and possibly at home. This new shunt will simplify the detection of shunt malfunctions while reducing the patient’s exposure to harmful side effects such as radiation from CAT scans to examine the shunt.
This project was funded by APDC. When the project joined the consortium the device was in the concept stage of development.