Philips opens Cambridge office, partners with MIT to study brain injuries

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Royal Philips formally opened its Cambridge research office Wednesday and announced details of a first project: An MIT collaboration that will study the use of ultrasound technology to diagnose brain injuries.

Philips announced in May that it was consolidating its North America research operations and relocating staff to the 250-person operation in Cambridge. The goal was to be closer to university research collaborators.

MIT is a first partner, and Philips has bet $25 million on a five-year collaboration with the institute. Applications in medical tech and urban planning also are in the cards.

The two-year commitment to study brain injuries announced Wednesday is a first point of collaboration, with MIT and Boston Medical Center. Philips will fund the project, and provide training and equipment.

The goal is to investigate whether ultrasound readers can help doctors assess the severity of a head injury, said Thomas Heldt, a professor at MIT who will lead the study.

One of the indicators of a hard knock to the head is a spike in pressure, caused by fluid that collects in the skull.

The usual ways to measure this “intracranial pressure” are invasive. Doctors drill a hole in the skull and send in a catheter, or do a lumbar puncture to take these readings, and typically reserve these surgical procedures for very serious injuries, or for patients who are very sick.

If a head scan could provide the same information, medics in an ambulance or at the school nurse’s station could more quickly diagnose and treat less serious injuries, Heldt explained. The scanners could travel to combat zones, for soldiers who’ve suffered blast injuries, and to the football field, where concussions among players are endemic.

Heldt is part of a group that has developed algorithms that convert data procured from ultrasound scanners to medically relevant readings. Part of his goal is also to find out how robust a measure of injury intracranial pressure is.

Boston and Cambridge are host to other high-profile projects that are studying concussions and brain health, among them the Boston University CTE Center that received NFL funding to study brain trauma in football players.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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