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Start-up of the week

Aiming to make holes in the head a thing of the past

Nearly 3 million US patients may need to check their cranial pressure, but most won’t or can’t. HeadSense’s new device may help

The HeadSense device (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The HeadSense device (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Constant, chronic headaches are more than just painful; they’re a sign that something may be seriously wrong with your head. One test that may be run in such cases is an intracranial pressure procedure, a test that generally requires doctors to drill a hole in the skull and place a catheter or screw inside to let them check the pressure.

It’s probably the last thing patients with bad headaches want to go through — and now, thanks to an Israeli start-up, they no longer have to. HeadSense‘s noninvasive intracranial pressure monitor lets doctors check the pressure inside the head, giving them accurate and clear readings on where the trouble spots are without having to resort to the drill. Among the health experts who think HeadSense has a good idea is GE Ventures, the venture capital unit of General Electric, which, along with Israeli, American, and German VC groups, announced last week that it was investing in the company.

When something is seriously wrong with your head, it lets you know — through constant headaches, blurred vision, and nerve issues. All of these may be caused by increased pressure inside the head, which could be indicative of a tumor or other growth competing for “head space” with the brain, blood, or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounding the brain.

What’s needed in a case like this is a test to monitor intracranial pressure, which, depending on the amount and location of the pressure, will indicate what the problem is and the stage of treatment. But the traditional ICP test is itself major surgery; while the patient is under full sedation (in an emergency unit, no less), the doctor drills a burr hole through the skull, allowing a catheter to be inserted into the space below the dura mater (the membrane that protects the brain and spinal cord). Using a chemical, doctors can measure the level of CSF inside the head, indicating what the patient may be suffering from, and allowing doctors to drain some of the fluid if necessary.

An alternative procedure lets doctors use an epidural sensor to monitor pressure, but you still need to drill through the skull to the dura mater.

Besides being painful, ICP monitoring is expensive — one reason why although there are over 3 million people in the US who suffer from maladies like brain tumors and need numerous ICP procedures, only 200,000 such procedures have been conducted, HeadSense said.

HeadSense’s device dispenses with holes, drills, and catheters, and uses sound to monitor pressure levels. The HeadSense device is placed on the patient’s head, with a speaker generating an acoustic signal at a specific frequency for up to 10 seconds. The signal goes through the head, and a sensor in the ear reads the information gleaned by the signal’s bouncing around inside the skull. The information gained by the acoustic signal is converted into data on pressure levels and is sent to a computer, which analyzes it and gives doctors a picture of what is going on inside the head.

The system includes an earbuds-like disposable unit that is placed in the patient’s ears.The device generates the acoustic signal that is circulated through the head and then is picked up in the other ear using an acoustic sensor. The data generated from the signal can then be analyzed in real-time from a tablet or smartphone, HeadSense said, adding that it’s all based on known scientific principles of acoustics, in which sound waves can propagate disturbances in the ambient pressure level in fluids and air. Besides being accurate (according to data posted on its site), its system is a lot cheaper than traditional ICP monitoring because it’s not invasive, the company added.

Commenting on the investment news, Guy Weinberg, CEO of HeadSense, said, “Intracranial pressure is an important parameter for the diagnosis and monitoring of patients suffering from head trauma, strokes and other conditions. The current gold-standard is expensive, invasive and requires a skilled neurosurgeon. With this new distributive technology we are offering a non-invasive, accurate, continuous and cost-effective alternative that will improve patient care by allowing more patients to be monitored with reduced costs.”

Besides GE Ventures, the other investors in HeadSense include Isaeli VC Pontifax, Everett Partners, an investment group in Akron, Ohio, and JuMaJo, an investment group from Hamburg, Germany. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Though well known for refrigerators and the like, GE is a big name in health care and has invested in numerous Israeli start-ups. Commenting on the investment, Noah Lewis, managing director of GE Ventures’ Healthcare division, said, “Disruptive digital and mobile health innovation, like HeadSense, is crucial to improving the quality and affordability of healthcare. We are excited to help HeadSense as it brings its technology to market.”

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