It was stated at an AAPM (The American Association of Physicists in Medicine) meeting that, “Ultrasound is currently the most rapidly growing imaging method, both in clinical applications and technology.”
Ultrasound, particularly portable ultrasound technologies, is often acclaimed as “the stethoscope of the future.”
The increasing use of sonography as an imaging modality, due to its relatively low cost and the fact that it is safer compared to other modalities (no radiation), aligns with rapid advancements in ultrasound technology.
And these technological advancements (i.e. in image quality, contrast enhancement capacities, elastography applications and more) in turn increase ultrasound capabilities. Furthermore, trends in portability expand where the imaging modality can be used, from a patient’s bedside to “out in the bush” to even the International Space Station.
“And from a clinical perspective, it is at least as effective as other imaging modalities in many cases,” stated “ultrasound pioneer,” Dr. Alfred Z. Abuhamad, as quoted in the 2012/2013 EVMS Magazine article, (“Is the stethoscope about to become extinct?-Medical ultrasound comes of age”).
In the same EVMS article, Internal Medicine professor and author, Dr. Alexander B. Levitov states, “Ultrasound technology is virtually omnipotent in that it can be used for every disease process, with the exception of a few psychological disorders.”
Numerous ultrasound advancements have recently come to light, so much so that it is nearly impossible to keep on top of every development. And undoubtedly, at this moment, great minds in more than one part of the globe are developing, testing and refining… a new sonography technique, piece, system or machine.
With this in mind, let’s explore just some of the strides in ultrasound technology recently shared with the world.
Clear Guide ONE
Clear Guide Medical based in Baltimore, Maryland, is a company “specializing in developing guidance systems for ultrasound-based medical interventions,” states its website. The company has developed the Clear Guide ONE system that includes a SuperPROBE (which is an ultrasound probe and a Clear Guide navigation head combined). The ultrasound-guiding technology allows physicians to view needle and other tool placement on a portable screen in real-time for such procedures as biopsies and central line insertion. Clear Guide, supported by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and the National Cancer Institute, is pursuing testing and FDA approval for its product.
Deniz Karasahin of DK Design (based in France and Turkey) has developed a medical cast, called the Osteoid, which won top prize for the A’ Design Award’s category 3D Printed Forms and Products Design (2013-2014). The Osteoid is a comfortable, custom-fit, eco-friendly, water-resistant cast. The design is intended to fit each individual—the injured limb is scanned using a 3D scanner, the data are run through software and the individualized cast is printed using a 3D printer. The cast has open holes throughout which allows low intensity pulsed ultrasound probes to be inserted. The LIPUS is intended to speed up the healing process. “Osteoid medical cast can also be combined with its complimentary, low intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) bone stimulator system,” states Osteoid’s Project Description at ADesignAward.com. “For single 20 minute daily sessions this system promises to reduce the healing process up to 38% and increase the heal rate up to 80% in non-union fractures.”
Samsung’s UGEO WS80A
In early 2014, it was announced that Samsung launched the UGEO WS80A, dubbed “the premium dimension in the ultrasound for women’s health.” Designed for a variety of female imaging exams, it includes such features as 5D technology, Myocardial Perfusion Imaging or MPI capabilities (i.e. monitoring blood flow through a fetus’ heart during an obstetric exam) and Samsung’s ElastoScan™ (an elastography ultrasound method to detect solid masses in surrounding tissue), not to mention a 21.5 inch-wide LED screen and a touch control pad. One of the 5D technologies includes 5D NT™ (NT stands for nuchal translucency) which helps diagnose for Downs Syndrome.
High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) has been making great waves for treating diseases, with various clinical trials and resulting approvals happening around the world. HIFU treatments uterine fibroids and bone metastases are the most globally approved. (You can find out about approvals for other treatments by geographic location by visiting the Focused Ultrasound Foundation website).
On March 4, 2014, a landmark event occurred at the FUS Center of University Children’s Hospital Zurich when for the first time a brain tumor was successfully treated using focused ultrasound! Specifically the tumor was “thermally ablated” using InSightec’s Exablate Neuro system. According to Insightec’s website, the Exablate Neuro (which combines HIFU with MRI) “has CE mark [approval] for targets in the thalamus, sub thalamus and pallidum regions of the brain. Intended use for neurological disorders (essential tremor, tremor-dominant idiopathic parkinson’s- unilateral and neuropathic pain).”
There are also continuous innovations employing ultrasound that are not necessarily related to medical diagnosis or treatment purposes. For example, a startup company called Ultrahaptics in Bristol, England is working on a technology that allows you to “feel” virtual objects. This has amazing potential for a variety of realms, from gaming to enhancing adaptations for the visually impaired. Ultrahaptics’ designs are based on ultrasound waves being targeted towards the user’s hand. “Ultrahaptics brings back the sense of touch to touchless interfaces, creating the magical experience of feeling without touching,” states the company’s website.