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The Next Wave in Ultrasound Technology

Find Out What’s New & Exciting in Ultrasound Technology

Senior Airman Joseph Bartlett scans mock-patient and fellow student Staff Sgt. Rebecca Gibson with the new “wearable ultrasound” under the supervision of Master Sgt. Cheryl Vance, a diagnostic ultrasound instructor with the 382nd Training Squadron. Vance was the impetus behind the creation of this breakthrough in mobile ultrasound technology. (Photo by 2nd Lt. Brooke Brander)

What’s next in ultrasound technology?  Back in 2002, a Texas air force base had a ‘SonoBorg’, or a sonographic cyborg, in their midst. This “wearable ultrasound” machine was created making training and performing ultrasounds that much more convenient. The device consists of a vest that holds the central processing unit and probe, a wristband containing the keyboard and mouse and an interface eyepiece.

Ultrasound technology is becoming more and more important in the medical world as a diagnostic and treatment tool. “Currently, the two most important modalities in healthcare are Ultrasound and MRI,” states Senior Vice President of Philips Ultrasound, Conrad H. Smits. “Both of them are radiation free and are growing fast”. He adds that “ultrasound is the poor man’s MRI” meaning that ultrasound technology is more affordable, an asset for healthcare economies in North America, Europe, India and elsewhere.

“Currently, the two most important modalities in healthcare are Ultrasound and MRI”
Conrad Smits, Philips

Due to the many advantages of ultrasound, the next wave of its technology is focusing on portability, enhanced imaging, faster performance and efficiency, but also more specialized procedures increasing the scope of diagnostic and also treatment capabilities.  The technology has come a long way since 1794, when physiologist Lazzaro Spallanzani was the first to study echolocation in bats.

Increased portability or smaller-sized ultrasound machines allow for sonography to be carried out almost everywhere, from a crowded emergency room to a field hospital overseas. In addition to the Sheppard base’s wearable ultrasound machine, in the fall of 2011, it was announced that Mobisante released its new smart phone ultrasound device with a USB insert for a transducer probe.

Phillips iU22 xMatrix

Phillips iU22 xMatrix. Capable of switching between capturing two-dimensional and three-dimensional images

More conventional-sized sonography machines have also become more sophisticated. For example, the Phillips iU22 xMatrix comes equipped with a transducer capable of switching between capturing two-dimensional and three-dimensional images; the probe also can capture images of two separate planes simultaneously without having to rotate the handheld device.

The Siemens ACUSON S2000 is an ultrasound system capable of performing conventional ultrasounds but also acoustic radiation force impulse (ARFI), a relatively new, non-invasive procedure for diagnosing liver fibrosis, identifying masses in the breast, treating hepatic conditions, and more that can sometimes be a substitute for biopsies which are invasive. “The ACUSON S2000 ultrasound system allows us to get really exquisite resolution of anything, from a mass in the liver to a small mass in the intestinal tract, to even smaller masses that might be common in the neck,” explains Dr. Stephanie Wilson of the Department of Diagnostic Imaging at Foothills Medical Center.

This Siemens ultrasound system is just one example of how advancement in technology correlates with advanced ultrasound procedures for diagnosis and treatment. Although first developed in the 1940s, HIFU (high intensity focused ultrasound) is an ultrasound trend that has recently become popular. It involves targeting diseased tissue with ultrasonic waves in order to heat and destroy tumors and other abnormalities. As of May 2012, clinical trials to treat prostate cancer with HIFU are being conducted in the United States.

Numerous other trends in diagnosis and treatment are propelling a new wave of ultrasound technology. Examples include elastography (for breast imaging) and contrast-enhanced ultrasound (inserting micro-bubble contrast agents into the bloodstream). As ultrasound continues to increase in demand and applications become more specialized, technology will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated.  Smits adds, “In the future, the ultrasound machines will definitely get smaller, but we have to ensure that smaller means better”.

Note: Some advancements in ultrasound procedures, practiced elsewhere in the world, are going through clinical trials or have not yet been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Ultrasound in medicine is advancing at a continuous rate. Learn more in this recently published article.