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The London Hospital Survival Predictor, London, England, 1972

The London Hospital Survival Predictor predicted whether patients in a coma following heart attacks would survive. It was the forerunner to brain function monitors. It was also an early example of a neural network. Neural networks ‘learn’ from the data collected. The condition of being ‘brain dead’ was influentially described in 1968 by a Harvard University Group. It was subsequently introduced into many legal systems. The medical Royal Colleges in the UK introduced the term ‘brain stem death’ in 1976. This enabled decision as to when organ donation could be carried out. The ambitious device was never used to determine whether a patient had already died or should have life-support withdrawn. However, its invention indicated growing problems presented by intensive care, organ donation and the concept of brain death. This is the only surviving example of the device. It was made and used at The London and St Bartholomew’s Hospitals.

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Glossary: clinical diagnosis

A diagnosis given based on the signs and symptoms of a disease.

Glossary: brain death

A state of irreversible coma, due to irreversible brain damage, resulting in a lack of response to all stimuli and a complete absence of any spontaneous muscle activity.

Glossary: brain stem

A small, but crucially important part of the brain. It is found at the connecting area between the brain and spinal cord. The brain stem controls many of the most basic body functions such as breathing, heart rate and consciousness.

Glossary: survival predictor

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