New blood clot detection system could save lives

Student engineers have developed a prototype handheld device that can detect potentially fatal blood clots in life support machines faster and more accurately, while also estimating their size and shape.

Created by final-year RMIT University Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) (Honours) students, the device integrates with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines – where blood clots often form.

When blood is transferred through a machine to be oxidised, clots can form and attach to the inner walls of the tubing, becoming potentially fatal if they are dislodged and pumped back into a patient.

Currently, there is no device or system that can help hospitals automatically detect blood clots as they form in ECMO machines, which replaces the function of the heart and lungs.

Instead, subjective methods are used, such as shining a torch along the tubes every couple of hours to visibly check for clots.

The RMIT-developed automatic detection system removes the guesswork by alerting medical staff when clots form.

Handheld blood clot detector, looks like a stud finder.The handheld device uses light rays to scan the tubes attached to ECMO machines to detect if a clot has formed..
Project lead Jayson Papadopoulos said the device beams an intense source of light through the tubing, creating a silhouette around the blood clot that can be used for detection and size estimation.
“The device detects and estimates the size and shape of the clots, creating valuable tangible data nurses can use to respond appropriately,” Papadopoulos said.

“It’s portable, lightweight and easy to use.”

The project team asked staff from The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne for a wish list of features an ideal piece of technology would have.

They also had help from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Group Leader of Heamatology Professor Vera Ignjatovic, who provided insights into problems with blood clots blocking ECMO circuits.

Supervisor Professor Gary Rosengarten from RMIT’s School of Engineering said the project was a team effort involving several students led by Papadopoulos.

“We hope to commercialise the technology, so it can help save lives in the future,” Rosengarten said.

The blood clot detection system was presented at EnGenius 2020, RMIT’s annual event showcasing final year engineering students’ projects and products.