In a novel adaptation of the chip in your smartphone that tracks how your phone is oriented can turn a $50,000 2D ultrasound machine into an ultrasound with 3D capabilities rivaling that of $250,000 counterparts. And here is the wow factor, the chip costs $10.

Researchers and engineers at Duke University and Stanford demonstrated their device last year at the American College of Emergency Physicians Research Forum in Washington, D.C.

The tongue-depressor-shaped device is mounted onto the ultrasound probe handle. The technician then slides the probe over gel-coated skin to relay the sonic signals to the ultrasound machine to produce an image.

The mounted device registers the probe’s orientation and uses software to splice together hundreds of individual readings of the anatomy to produce a three-dimensional image similar in quality to a CT scan or MRI, according to Joshua Broder, MD, associate professor of surgery at Duke Health, and one of the creators of the technology.


"With 2-D technology you see a visual slice of an organ, but without any context, you can make mistakes," Broder said in a press release. "These are problems that can be solved with the added orientation and holistic context of 3D technology. Gaining that ability at an incredibly low cost by taking existing machines and upgrading them seemed like the best solution to us."

Broder worked on his idea for over a year before he took sketches to Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, where he teamed up with then-undergraduate student Matt Morgan, and biomedical engineers Carl Herickhoff and Jeremy Dahl, who are now at Stanford University.

The team used 3-D printing to create their prototype plastic “holster” that slips onto the ultrasound probe that allows attaching the location-sensing chip. In addition, they crafted a plastic stand to help steady the probe as the technician targets a particular part of the anatomy.

The chip and probe are connected to a laptop computer programmed to interpret the signals from the probe. As the tech moves the probe the program assembles a 3D model in seconds.

The device is currently undergoing testing in clinical trials to evaluate its usefulness and determine how it fits into workflows in the care of different types of patients. The developers think the device might prove most useful in cases where CT or MRI are not available or too risky.

"With trauma patients in the emergency department, we face a dilemma," Broder said. "Do we take them to the operating room not knowing the extent of their internal injuries or bleeding, or do we risk transporting them to a CT scanner, where their condition could worsen due to a delay in care? With our new 3-D technique, we hope to demonstrate that we can determine the source of bleeding, measure the rate of bleeding right at the bedside and determine whether an operation is really needed."

Another application is for imaging newborn babies, who are very difficult to image due to the difficulty in getting the patient to remain still for minutes at a time, which often means using sedation on an infant for an MRI or exposure to radiation for a CT scan.

Ultrasound by contrast is inexpensive, portable, and completely safe in any patient. It can be brought to the bedside without interfering with patient care.

It has a broad range of uses in emergency medicine where doctors use ultrasound to insert catheters into blood vessels, to see into patients to determine where internal bleeding is taking place, and to image fluid on the brain in infants.

Broder, Herickhoff, Dahl, and Morgan are listed on the patent and the team believes their current clinical trials could allow them to bring the technology to market within two years.

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Source: Duke Health press release, “How a $10 Microchip Turns 2-D Ultrasound Machines to 3-D Imaging Devices”


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