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Researchers Developing Automated Battlefield Drug Delivery System

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Toby Weber
Grigoriadis
Grigoriadis
Franchek
Franchek

Soldiers wounded in battle may one day owe their lives to research being conducted at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering.

Karolos Grigoriadis and Matt Franchek, both professors in the college’s mechanical engineering department, are working with physicians at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston to develop a system that automatically delivers lifesaving medications and fluids to the cardiovascular system for resuscitation after traumatic injury. They have won a three-year grant  from the Office of Naval Research, including $561,000 supporting the UH investigators.

The automated system will include a set of cardiovascular medications, such as those intended to raise or lower blood pressure or heart rate, which will be attached to an IV line inserted into the patient. Simple monitoring equipment like a blood pressure cuff and heart rate monitor will feed information on the patient’s condition into a computer that controls the system. From there, algorithms will use that information to determine which medications and dosages to deliver to the patient.

Developing these algorithms is where much of the UH work lies, said Grigoriadis. Using data provided by UTMB-Galveston, the research team will first create mathematical models of how the cardiovascular system responds to different medications. “From a systematic, mathematical viewpoint, the effect of these drugs is not known,” he said. “So the first objective of this research is to provide a quantitative model of the effects of the drugs on physiological variables like blood pressure and heart rate. With that information, we will try to automate the delivery of these drugs and fluids through a system that can be used on a battlefield, a hospital, or during emergency care.”

One important aspect of these algorithms, Grigoriadis said, will be the ability to adjust the medications being delivered. If a patient is not responding as expected, for instance, the system must be able to recognize that fact and then automatically deliver a new set of medicines or dosages. In addition, the system will take into account how different drugs interact with each other and calculate the best combination of medicines for a particular patient.

The device will also have an override function, allowing physicians to change medications and dosages as they see fit. “We’re not out to replace doctors,” Grigoriadis said. “But there can be great variability in the level of care available on a battlefield or other emergency situations. With this device we should be able to optimize the delivery of these medications and have a significant impact on care.”

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