UA Engineering Researchers Unite to Save Precious Time in Medical Emergencies

 Picture of Dr. Wu and Dr. Jensen

(From left to right: Dr. Jingxian Wu and Dr.  Morten Jensen)

Two University of Arkansas engineering professors are combining their fields of expertise to create new technology that will help doctors detect and measure blood volume, a vital piece of information when treating trauma victims or patients unable to communicate, including infants or wounded soldiers on a battlefield.

Jingxian Wu, associate professor of electrical engineering, and Morten Jensen, associate professor of biomedical engineering, are working to better equip doctors to quickly detect the life-threatening effects of dehydration and blood loss.

The researchers are working to address hypovolemia, a condition where the body doesn’t have enough fluid in the bloodstream, which can be caused by illness or an accident where a person loses too much blood.

Wu and Jensen’s research focuses on pediatric and severely wounded patients, who are unable to communicate. The goal is to create a new technology that can use peripheral venous pressure waveforms to detect blood volume faster and more accurately than current technology.

Typically, when a hypovolemic patient arrives at the hospital, doctors aren't able to determine the amount of blood loss, so they insert a venous line to provide fluid as a precaution.

“They start giving fluid because it’s the safe thing to do,” Jensen said. “But research has shown that too much fluid in the bloodstream can have the opposite effect and render the heart’s pumping inefficient, which is a very dangerous situation.” 

Figuring out how much fluid a patient needs requires lab tests, which can be time-consuming, costing clinicians precious minutes during a critical phase of treatment.

“We don’t know what their status is, so we need to do lab tests to figure out fluid levels so the clinician can decide how much fluid they should give to the patient,” Jensen said. “Looking at the volume of blood is something that can be measured in multiple ways, but we are trying to do it in a way that is minimally invasive and possible with the equipment that first responders have available.”

Wu and Jensen’s technology would allow clinicians to read the patients' blood volume right at that crucial moment.

The technology rests on the mechanistic background for the signal changes when a person loses volume.  Wu said the team plans to conduct tests in a controlled environment, and will then branch into broader applications.

“Once we have some excellent results in the lab and we know it works well under a controlled environment – we hope to move on to the next step,” Wu said.

Jensen and Wu said they hope to one day provide the technology to first responders because they’re the first on the scene.

Wu will work on developing a machine learning and statistical signal processing algorithms for volume status assessments with both experimental and clinical input data from Jensen and colleagues at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

“We want to develop something that can work fast - the gold standard assessment is to obtain the information with lab tests, but it takes a lot of time to get the results back, and results can typically not be obtained by first responders, “Wu said. “It could be too late for a patient.”

In order to create this new technology, aimed to measure a patient’s volume in seconds while receiving the most accurate results back, Jensen and Wu will work with researchers like Hanna Jensen, a clinical assistant professor of biomedical engineering. She also serves as the Associate Director of Clinical Research for the Level 1 Trauma Team at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

For Hanna Jensen, the technology has critical clinical implications.

Picture of Hanna Jensen  "Fast and accurate volume status assessment is critical in most trauma situations,” she said.

  With the information obtained from the signal processing algorithms, the team hopes to create   technology that will sit either alongside an IV line to measure the blood volume or inside a vein.

  For both Wu and Morten Jensen, the collaboration has been key to progress.

  “The coupling between biomedical and electrical engineering is a strong setup,” Morten Jensen said. “Our   work complements each other and where our expertise intersects  is where the  foundation of discovery   appears.”