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Researchers Develop Computerized Drug Dosage Monitor for Comatose Patients

November 1, 2013
by Gabriel Perna
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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a computerized system that tracks a patient’s brain activity and can automatically adjust drug dosages when they’re in a coma.

The system has been tested on rats and the researchers are now planning to begin human trials. According to the researchers, patients in a comatose state, post traumatic brain injury, are induced with anesthesia drugs that can last for days. During this time, nurses need to monitor patients to make sure their brains are at the right level of sedation.

The automated system would be a way to replace the inefficient method, says Emery Brown, a professor of medical engineering in MIT's Institute for Medical Engineering and Science. "Someone has to be constantly coming back and checking on the patient, so that you can hold the brain in a fixed state. Why not build a controller to do that?" state Brown, who is also an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and a professor of health sciences and technology at MIT.

To achieve the coma drug dosage version of autopilot, Brown and his colleagues built a brain-machine interface, which creates direct communication pathway between the brain and an external device that typically assists human cognitive, sensory or motor functions. The device uses an electroencephalogram (EEG) system, a drug-infusion pump, a computer, and a control algorithm to maintain the brain at the right pattern.

According to the researchers, it can increase the depth of a coma almost instantaneously, which is impossible for a human to do accurately by hand. It’s also possible, through the system, to bring them out of the coma, so doctors could conduct neurological tests.

"This approach introduces a methodology where doctors and nurses don't need to guess, but can rely on a computer to figure out — in much more detail and in a time-efficient fashion — how much drug to give,” Sydney Cash, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

Research for this project was funded through the National Institutes of Health.

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