At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a group of scientists has achieved a medical breakthrough. They have developed a special ultrasound patch that will finally enable permanent imaging of the inside of the body. This should facilitate long-term monitoring of organs.
Image capture for up to 48 hours
Anyone who has endured an ultrasound scan knows that it only lasts a short time. To record an image of the inside of your body using this technique, the doctor must use a pen-shaped transducer to slowly scan the area of your body in question. Hydrogel is used to facilitate the image acquisition. This now time-honored medical technique could soon become obsolete. This is not only because it is impractical in many respects. The devices not only cost a lot of money. On top of that, they are large, eat up a lot of electricity and cannot work autonomously. They always require medical personnel to operate them. Another point that could put an end to the existence of conventional ultrasound devices is the latest development by a group of researchers at the renowned MIT, reported by Science magazine.
They have developed a sophisticated ultrasound patch. With its help, however, ultrasound equipment is not expected to disappear from doctors’ offices and hospitals – at least for the time being. Rather, the small medical breakthrough is intended to finally enable permanent monitoring of certain organs. This is only possible to a limited extent with classic ultrasound devices. One reason for this is that the hydrogel required for image transmission often dries out after a short time. The developed patch, on the other hand, is supposed to enable image transmission for almost 48 hours. To do this, the user simply has to stick it onto the corresponding part of the body. The advantage is probably not only in the duration of the recording. On top of that, the patch should also be able to hold during physical activities.
A high-tech patch
At first glance, the patch developed at MIT looks like a cross between a microchip and a classic band-aid. A look inside quickly reveals that this is cutting-edge technology. The golden pins are many small ultrasound heads that are supposed to ensure permanent image transmission for up to 48 hours. Thanks to a stretchable adhesive layer that sticks much more firmly to the body than conventional plasters, the transducers retain their position for the entire time. One advantage is said to be more than just long-lasting image transmission.
In addition, the rigid position of the individual transducers should ensure image transmission with better quality than an ultrasound device. The better position of the many small transducers should also ensure that the sound waves can penetrate deeper into the body. The advantage of this is that it should also be possible to detect organs located in deeper regions. The fact that the patch has a special layer of hydrogel also comes into play here. The special gel on the patch does not dry out, unlike the classic, stationary ultrasound device.
First tests at MIT with convincing results
Of course, the research team also tested its postage-stamp-sized ultrasound patch directly. Here, according to the scientists, healthy test subjects were used. The patches were applied to different areas of the body. Afterwards, the test subjects were not supposed to lie down. Rather, they were to follow their normal daily routine. In addition to walking and standing, this also included sports such as cycling and even weight lifting. Despite exercise, the scientists were able to take a high-resolution look inside the test subjects over the 48 hours. The findings were said to be impressive. Not only was the research team able to take a targeted look at organs such as the heart or stomach. They were also apparently able to reproduce the movements of blood vessels very well.
The researchers believe that the high resolution could lead ultrasound technology into a new age. After all, it was possible to look into deeper regions of the body without any problems. For example, in the case of weight-lifting test subjects, it is said that even the smallest damage to the muscles, which occurred in the course of training, could be seen. According to MIT, this could bring decisive training advantages, especially in professional sports. For example, with perfect timing, it would be possible to wait for the moment when an overload is imminent. This would rule out cramps and severe muscle soreness. Consequently, the areas of application are not only in the field of medicine.
Long road to market?
Despite the impressive results that MIT can already show, it seems that there is still a long way to go before we will see ultrasound patches in practice. One step that absolutely still needs to be taken, for example, is a wireless way of working. So far, the patch has always been wired. But MIT doesn’t want to stop there. According to the research team, they are probably also trying to make automated diagnoses possible. To do this, they still have to develop an artificial intelligence capable of interpreting the images.
One example where this could be used is in problem pregnancies. Here, the baby could be monitored permanently. This seems to be another example of how technological progress is taking us forward not only in digitalization, but in other areas as well – Medicine being one of them. Just recently, we reported on how a robot completed a surgical exercise better than an experienced surgeon. On top of that, earlier this year there was a breakthrough in curing paraplegics. Electrodes attached to the spinal cord can help them walk again.