Building on the intracranial pressure sensors, SSIM researchers are now designing a catheter, or shunt, that opens and closes in response to pressure levels in the brain. With such a system in place, a sensor mounted in the shunt would perceive even slight rises in pressure and trigger a valve in the shunt to open and drain the cerebrospinal fluids until the pressure returns to a healthy level.
Besides helping in the treatment of infant hydrocephalus, stroke and head injury, such a smart shunt would have applications in the recently identified condition called normal-pressure hydrocephalus, which is all too common in older people, particularly those diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. In this condition, the intracranial pressure spikes for just a few minutes a day and then drops back to normal. Scientists now believe that those spikes, although fleeting, can eventually cause brain damage, leading to a breadth of symptoms ranging from memory problems to loss of bladder and/or motor control. The SSIM's smart shunt will be designed to monitor each patient all day, everyday for even the most temporary of spikes, and immediately drain fluids to maintain a constant pressure, therefore preventing brain damage and the associated symptoms.