Ultrasound technology has been a revolutionary tool used to diagnose conditions and get a better understanding of what’s going on in the body at any given time. However, ultrasound technology often requires large equipment available only in hospitals or specialized medical centers, limiting access to this technology and making flexible use of these tools challenging.
A team of researchers at MIT may have developed a solution to these challenges.
In a paper published in Science, researchers describe a new technology that could change how we use ultrasound for health purposes: a small sticker, about the size of a stamp that attaches to the skin, that can generate ultrasound images. What’s more, the sticker can produce a continuous “live-stream” of images for about 48 hours.
In the paper, researchers describe how the patch worked when attached to healthy volunteers. The sticker was able to produce images of internal organs and blood vessels. The stickers did not fall off, even if a volunteer was doing a physical activity like running. The images produced were also quality, high-res images, overcoming the limitations of some existing attempts to create a wearable ultrasound device.
The ability to continuously monitor images also eliminates the need for manual generation of ultrasound images. Either a technician or, in some cases, a mechanical arm, holds a transduce against the skin using a coating of gel. However, for people who need continuous ultrasound image generation, this is not a viable option.
In its current design, the sticker is still held back by the limitations of bulky tools. The sticker is still attached to large, bulky machines in order to generate ultrasound images. In the short term, however, researchers still see some benefit to using their sticker design. For example, patients who are hospitalized could wear the sticker like they do an EKG sticker, allowing providers to have access to additional information about a patient's well being through continuously-available moving images.
In the future, researchers hope to make the sticker wireless, and potentially make it available over-the-counter for patients to use at home to monitor their own health.