Hot prospects for cool heads
A new device aims to reduce the risk of brain damage by providing on-the-spot cooling in emergency situations
Keeping a cool head, in every sense, could save lives and reduce the risk of brain damage in an emergency.
Now, hoping to mirror the success of the defibrillator in cardiac arrest situations, a Dundalk-based company has secured an Irish patent for a portable cooling instrument attached to a helmet device that would allow paramedics to provide on-the-spot, highly controlled brain cooling.
“Medical evidence suggests that if action is taken quickly enough, cooling the brain by just one degree can reduce swelling after a brain injury and limit the loss of neurologic function in the case of an acute stroke, cardiac arrest or where newborns are deprived of oxygen,” says Tom Mears, managing director and founder of Eurolec Instrumentation .
The company’s cooling know-how comes from one its early products – a calibration device capable of providing precise heating and cooling between temperatures of -20 and 85, enabling industrial customers to check the accuracy of their thermometers.
The Eureka moment came after reading a New Scientist article on the benefits of brain cooling. “It was a case of, ‘We’ve got the technology!’” he says.
After some initial market research, the company got to work on developing a prototype and filing for a patent. That process took about 18 months, and Mears describes it as being “fairly intensive for a small company”.
Established in 1998, Eurolec currently employs seven people; over 60 per cent of its sales are exported.
“For the preliminary discussion with a patent attorney and the associated search, you are probably talking ballpark around €5,000, and that’s just the beginning,” he says. “You are talking in very detailed legalistic terminology, which is virtually like a new language, and we had to submit drawings and explain the whole logic of the process and how it worked.”
Proving the patent hinged on what was distinctively different about Cool Head compared with other systems already out there.
“That ranged from fairly basic crushed ice in bags or cooling gel packs being placed on the person’s head to, in some cases, the kind of technology you’d see in the B-quality movies of the 1950s, whereby cool air or cooling liquid would be circulated through virtually a whole spacesuit,” says Mears.
While the latter approach proved quite effective, it could only be done in hospital situations, and it also posed risks by cooling other body organs.