Ultrasound stickers can image internal organs for many days on end

Ultrasonic patch made with water-based hydrogel Image source: Mitsutoshi Makihata /Xuanhe Zhao

A stamp-sized patch attached to the skin can provide 48 hours of continuous ultrasound imaging of internal organs. This can reveal details such as changes in the shape of the human heart during exercise, or swelling and contraction of a person’s stomach while eating or drinking. The paper was published in Science.

“Welcome to the era of ‘wearable imaging,'” said Zhao Xuanhe of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Many researchers have been working to develop wearable ultrasound devices made from flexible materials. But they found that it was a challenge to create flexible devices that could stick to the skin for more than hours while enabling high-resolution ultrasound imaging.

Zhao Xuanhe and colleagues solved this problem by combining rigid transducer components that generate and detect ultrasound with soft, sticky patches. The patch consists of a layer of water-based hydrogel for ultrasonic transmission, sandwiched between two layers of elastomer material to prevent hydrogel dehydration.

The team attached ultrasound stickers to the arms, necks, chests and waists of 15 volunteers who drank juice, lifted weights, jogged or cycled in the lab. During these activities, ultrasound imaging on stickers showed changes in the size and shape of their lungs, diaphragms, heart, stomach, and aortic arteries and veins.

There is still a lot of work to be done before ultrasound stickers can be used for medical monitoring anywhere. Currently, the stickers have to be connected by wires to a computer that converts ultrasound into images and collects data, meaning it’s not a completely portable system.

Still, “There is now an instant ultrasound device for a phone-sized data acquisition system.” This led Zhao to believe that the computing components could be miniaturized and eventually integrated with ultrasonic stickers into a truly wireless and fully portable imaging system.

Lu Nanshu of the University of Texas at Austin said, “This is a truly groundbreaking study that brings wearable ultrasound closer to patients.” ”

Ultrasound stickers can provide hospitals with more flexible imaging options to monitor patients without requiring technicians to hold ultrasound probes, and they can be useful in situations where there is a shortage of technicians. “You don’t need a trained ultrasound doctor or a giant ultrasound machine.” Philip Tan of the University of Texas at Austin says, “It can be deployed to communities with very few resources.” ”

In the long run, this sticker could help monitor the lungs of COVID-19 patients at home, monitor and manage cardiovascular disease patients, track growing cancer tumors, and even continuously monitor the fetus in the womb. There are no known risks of low-power ultrasound, but the team says they will study any potential side effects of prolonged exposure to ultrasound in the future. (Source: China Science Daily, Li Muzi)

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