MIT-Epidural-placement_0Over the course of a year, more than 13 million epidural procedures are performed every year in the United States. Generally regarded as safe, there are still complications, such as reduced effectiveness or spinal cord injury, in up to 10% of cases, due to human error.

Researchers at MIT Biomedical Research Center and the Massachusetts General Hospital are working to improve the safety of these procedures by imbedding a new sensor into an epidural that helps doctors guide the needle into the correct location. Currently, needles are placed blindly due to varying tissues found around the spinal cord.

In order to determine the best sensor for this improved procedure, several types of optical sensors were placed at the tip of an epidural needle. Researchers looked for the sensor that used Raman spectroscopy the most efficiently, a technique that uses light to measure energy shifts in molecular vibrations to determine the chemical composition of tissue and accurately differentiate between tissue layers.

An epidural needle needs to pass through five layers — skin, fat, supraspinous ligament, interspinous ligament, and ligamentum flavum — before reaching the epidural space. The sensor provides real-time information telling the anesthesiologist which tissue the needle is in with 100% accuracy.

Researchers are presently finishing preliminary testing for the sensor before moving to human trails with hopes to improve the safety and quality of not only epidurals, but of all procedures involving needles.

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Source: MIT News