Using ultrasounds to detect meningitis

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The Spanish innovator Javier Jiménez has developed Neosonics, a non-invasive probe which quickly detects whether a baby has meningitis

Currently, a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is needed to detect whether a baby has meningitis or not. However, the results are negative for 95% of those who undergo the procedure. It is an invasive technique, which can be incredibly painful for some. In order to avoid this potentially traumatic experience and instead offer a non-invasive technique, Javier Jimenez, a biomedical engineering doctor, developed Neosonics: a high-accuracy probe which detects the illness as it passes over the head of the baby. 

The Spanish innovator developed Neosonics under the umbrella of his company New Born Solutions, with the aim of providing a solution to the challenges of detecting and treating meningitis. Meningitis leads to swelling (inflammation) of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. The main symptoms, such as fever or drowsiness, are common in many other conditions. This makes meningitis more difficult to diagnose, and thus, more complicated to treat. Moreover, it can cause neurological damage, and may even prove to be fatal to the patient within hours. 

It is simple to use this innovative system: the tip of the probe is placed on the fontanelle of the baby. At the press of a button, the device takes a high-resolution picture of the cerebrospinal fluid and counts the white blood cells. In other words, this probe detects the number of cells present in the cerebrospinal fluid. Children with a count in excess of 25 cells per microlitre are believed to have meningitis. If the results of the test are positive, the doctor can immediately set out a course of treatment.

In this way, we can save time and be more precise in the diagnosis of this illness. If the results show that the patient does have meningitis, then “the lumbar puncture can be done, and the medical treatment started”, Jiménez explains. By contrast, an unnecessary lumbar puncture is avoided if the results are negative. 

Two years after being chosen as one of the Spanish Innovators Under 35 Spain for 2016  by MIT Technology Review in Spanish, Jiménez is still developing this device and intends for it to be used widely across medical centres around the world. On the one hand, more developed countries will be able to use it to monitor patients without the need for a lumbar puncture. In developing countries, on the other hand, it will allow for quick diagnosis of the illness. At the present time, a prototype has already been sent to Mozambique. 

Jiménez explains that external investment was vital in order to perfect Neosonics. In the last year they have benefitted from support from Neotec, which subsidises newly-created technology companies in Spain; from Startup Capital, the Generalitat of Catalonia’s accelerator, and from SME Instrument, a European Union initiative to boost small and medium-sized enterprises. 

According to Jiménez, this progress is “a change for the better” and he adds that Neosonics is a way for him “to contribute to improving society”. Indeed, the outlook is positive, especially given the results of the market research undertaken with the agency Insights in Life Sciences. The study included 20 paediatricians from 20 referral hospitals in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. The results showed that 95% of participants in the study agreed that having a non-invasive diagnostic technique available in hospitals was necessary. 

There is one thing that truly motivates Jiménez to achieve his great objective: “We want to provide solutions based on medical technology which help to improve people’s health”. 

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