Possible life saving device created for children with hydrocephalus
Posted Oct 31 2011 10:15am
Ten years ago, working on a night shift as a resident in a Madison emergency room, Josh Medow found himself treating a child with hydrocephalus, a disease in which fluid accumulates in the brain. The child had a headache and the anxious parents feared the worst — that a shunt designed to drain the fluid had failed and potentially lethal pressure was building up in the boy's brain. Medow realized there was no way to check whether pressure was indeed increasing, short of intrusive and painful procedures. The child ended up in the operating room.
Today, Medow, 38, and an attending neurosurgeon at UW Hospital, is on the verge of patenting a device he invented that allows doctors and even parents to easily keep track of cranial pressure in a child with hydrocephalus.
About 700,000 people have hydrocephalus, a disease in which the body is missing the ability to re-absorb the cerebral spinal fluid that bathes the brain. That fluid is normally made and drained three times a day, Medow said. But in those with the disease, it builds up and creates dangerous pressure that can lead to brain damage, stroke and blindness. Normally, a shunt keeps the fluid drained, but studies show half of all shunts fail within two years. Sometimes, for example, they get clogged; fluid builds up and pressure increases.
Medow couldn't stop thinking about the problem. There had to be a better way, he thought, to know whether a shunt has failed than doing surgery on the shunt itself, an operation that can cost as much as $15,000 and cause considerable pain. That night, when he got home, he made the initial drawings for a device that could eventually be made small enough to be implanted to monitor pressure and allow parents and doctors to know whether a shunt had failed without doing invasive surgery.
Medow realized there was no way to check whether pressure was indeed increasing, short of intrusive and painful procedures. The child ended up in the operating room
The long journey from that night in the emergency room to the invention of the tiny silicon implant that now sits on his desk is partly a tale of how medical devices come to be. But it is also a story of invention, full of twists and turns, moments of insight (that light bulb going on over the head), night-long sessions in Medow's basement where he initially cobbled together a prototype, and a trip or two to Radio Shack.