Bid to bring stroke technology to regional Australia

Bid to bring stroke technology to regional Australia

RMIT engineers working with the Australian Stroke Alliance are seeking further funding to develop lightweight and mobile CT scanners to bring vital diagnostic tools to rural and remote communities.

There are more than 56,000 strokes in Australia each year and around half a million people live with the ongoing effects.

Now a 30-strong team of multidisciplinary professionals have formed the Australian Stroke Alliance and are working to develop the world’s first stroke air ambulance.

Awarded $1 million dollars in 2019 to come up with a proof of concept, the alliance is now pitching for a share of the $570 million Frontier Medical Research Future Fund initiative.

They plan to bring their program to market with industry partners including Brisbane’s EMVision, Adelaide’s Micro-X and Australian-based Siemens Healthineers.

RMIT’s Associate Professor Kate Fox and Professor Cees Bil from the School of Engineering are part of the team and have been developing new ways of building CT scanners, making them light and stable enough to travel by road and air.

Fox has been named on Engineers Australia’s Top 30 most innovative engineers list, is the recipient of a Victorian Tall Poppy Award and is recognised by Science and Technology Australia as a current Superstar of STEM.

She said additive manufacturing techniques provided new ways to create lighter machinery components in order to make normally cumbersome medical devices more transportable.

“A conventional CT machine weighs around 500kg, so we’ve been taking it apart and stripping out components not needed for it to function,” she said.

“We’ve then been redesigning others for simplicity, making them hollow or thinner or built in a lattice for strength to enable us to rebuild a much lighter machine.”

L-R: School of Engineering Professor Cees Bil and Associate Professor Kate Fox

Stroke is highly treatable but time critical, with the “golden hour” after onset the vital window for receiving diagnosis and treatment to give patients the best chance of survival.

People in rural and regional areas are 19% more likely to have a stroke and are also more likely to have a poorer outcome.

Bil is overseeing integrating the machine into a helicopter, or fixed wing plane, together with medical professionals and other medical equipment in order to bring critical health services to remote Australians.

He said fitting heavy and delicate medical equipment on an aircraft was a significant engineering challenge in bringing the hospital to the patient.

“This equipment was not designed to fly and will be subjected to vibration, temperature variations and g-loads,” he said.

“We also need to make sure that there is room for the patient and paramedics and doctors can access them from all around.”

A simulation of the cabin of an S-92 helicopter equipped with CT machine.

The Australian Stroke Alliance includes experts from health and academic institutes and charities, including the Royal Melbourne Hospital, University of Melbourne, Ambulance Victoria, Stroke Foundation and Royal Flying Doctors Service.


Story: Grace Taylor

09 September 2020


09 September 2020


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