Several years ago, emergency medical technician Matt Kesinger found out that a patient he’d rushed to the hospital had had a stroke, and he hadn’t caught it. This is a common scenario because there’s been no quick and accurate way of detecting strokes outside of a hospital. Caused by an interruption of blood supply to the brain, stroke is the number one cause of disability in America. Only specialized hospitals have equipment for full diagnosis and treatment, and brain cells die every minute during a stroke; so going to the right hospital is crucial.
Kesinger became determined to do something to address prehospital care. His passion led him to enroll in Pitt Med and, eventually, to the development of AlphaStroke, a mobile screening device that detects stroke on the spot. Last spring, the AlphaStroke project won $700,000 in the Rice Business Plan Competition; as a result, Kesinger was invited to ring the Nasdaq closing bell.
Why is a stroke-screening device needed in ambulances?
We know the classic signs—slurred speech, one-sided weakness—but only 40 to 50 percent of cases at most present that way. The rest depend on the part of the brain affected. With heart attacks, medics administer an EKG . . . to determine whether a heart attack has happened or is happening. There’s nothing like that for stroke. So, many stroke victims go to the wrong hospital. There’s an acronym for it, DIDO—door in, door out time: how long it takes to go from the wrong hospital to the right one. The longer it takes, the higher the probability of brain damage.
There are only 12 ambulances in the U.S. equipped with CT scanners—the [standard] technology for diagnosis and treatment for strokes—and each costs over a million dollars and must be operated by a neurologist.
How exactly does AlphaStroke work?
This handheld, portable device is connected to electrodes that measure brain waves. Using EEG and evoked potential, it can identify asymmetry in brain waves with 85 to 95 percent accuracy in less than 3 minutes. We created a scale of 0 to 10: the higher the number the more likely a stroke has happened, and a 10 indicates large vessel occlusion (which is a big stroke).
What was your process for creating AlphaStroke, and what stage is it in now?
I came to Pitt Med and researched the problem with some great emergency medicine faculty. Then in 2014, I got the idea to create the device. I recruited electrical engineer Dan Willis to build it. My mentors at Pitt encouraged me to take a leave of absence to get AlphaStroke into the world and then return to finish my final year before residency. In April 2015, we incorporated and filed a patent, and by August 2015, we had some designs.
In May 2017, we successfully completed a clinical trial with 38 subjects at UPMC and Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. We are gearing up for a large efficacy trial that will take place at hospitals across the country; we expect FDA clearance in approximately two years.