Marine Corps Systems Command is introducing widespread use of an innovative, life-saving and award-winning technology to Marines in the field.

The Infrascanner is a portable, medical diagnostic device that provides early detection of intracranial hematomas — bleeding within the skull — in the field, potentially saving lives and improving casualty care and recovery.

The handheld device uses near-infrared light — invisible light that is nearly visible to the naked eye — to effectively check for intracranial hematomas on different parts of the skull. With the device, medical personnel at battalion aid stations can quickly assess Marines who may have suffered a head injury.

Detecting Brain Injury

“Intracranial hematomas — if gone untreated — can put pressure on the brain, causing potential brain damage or even death,” said Mark Urrutic, project officer for the Family of Field Medical Equipment Team at Marine Corps Systems Command. A retired Navy chief hospital corpsman, Urrutic is familiar with the scenarios Marines face that can lead to this type of injury.

“Marines can sustain these types of injuries by falling and hitting their heads or by being in close proximity to a blast, which could damage the brain by rattling it within the skull,” he said.

Successful treatment of traumatic brain injuries often relies on timely diagnosis and intervention to prevent long-term brain damage. Because serious brain injuries can sometimes be asymptomatic, meaning there are no outward signs of injury and those injured report feeling “fine,” it is important to detect these types of injuries quickly, Urrutic said.

Prior to the fielding of the Infrascanner in 2015, the Marine Corps did not have the technological capability to assess brain injuries on the battlefield. Medical personnel instead relied primarily on the Military Acute Concussion Evaluation, a questionnaire and screening tool gauging the severity of symptoms and potential cognitive deficits associated with concussions.

‘No Capability Like This Existed Before’

“Before the Infrascanner, all we could do to assess brain injuries in the field was complete a [Military Acute Concussion Evaluation] form. For more definitive care, we would perform a CT scan — a series of high-resolution X-rays to look for any kind of brain squishing in from blood,” said John Philpott, Medical Team engineer at Marine Corps Systems Command. “No capability like this existed before the Infrascanner.”

While most hospitals have state-of-the-art CT scanners to diagnose intracranial hematomas, remote battlefield facilities lack the necessary capabilities to diagnose this condition due to the size and logistics of transporting and operating one in the field. Marines with a potential brain injury would need to be flown out to another facility to receive the scan and subsequent treatments. With the Infrascanner, corpsmen in the field can quickly determine whether someone has suffered serious brain trauma and needs additional treatment.

“This isn’t going to replace the CT scan,” Philpott said. “In addition to helping us determine if Marines have suffered brain injuries, it can help us rule out Marines who haven’t. So, Marines who aren’t suffering from a brain hematoma can get back to the action sooner, rather than having to send every Marine back for a CT scan, which uses time and resources.”

Award-Winning Technology

The Infrascanner project started as a small business innovation research grant before successfully being transitioned into a program of record at Marine Corps Systems Command. In recognition for their efforts, the Infrascanner team received the Department of the Navy’s 2016 Ron Kiss Maritime Technology Transition Award. The award recognizes the individual or team in the defense acquisition community for outstanding achievement as a result of successfully transitioning a technology into a program of record or into operational use.

“As systems engineers, we serve as the middle man between the users and developers,” Philpott said. “We need to make sure that, at the end of the day, the product that is delivered meets our requirements, not just for us, but for our sailors and Marines.”