Ultrasound imaging provides clinicians with live images of a patient’s internal organs and is a safe and non-invasive window into the body’s workings. Trained technicians use ultrasound wands and probes to direct sound waves into the body to capture these images. These waves reflect to produce high-resolution images of the heart, lungs, and other deep organs in a patient.
“We envision a few patches adhered to different locations on the body, and the patches would communicate with your cellphone, where AI algorithms would analyse the images on demand,” says Xuanhe Zhao, Engineering Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Professor Xuanhe, who is also the senior author of the study believed that they have opened a new era of wearable imaging, “With a few patches on your body, you could see your internal organs.”
Additionally, the stickers need to be linked to equipment that transforms the reflected sound waves into images. If the devices can be made to function wirelessly, which is a goal the team is currently working toward, the ultrasound stickers might be transformed into wearable imaging things that patients might purchase at a drugstore or even take home from a doctor’s office.
To transmit ultrasonic waves, an ultrasound technician will first apply a liquid gel to the patient’s skin. Then, by pressing a probe into the gel, sound waves are sent into the body, resonating off interior structures, and returning to the probe, where the echoed signals are converted into visual images.
Some hospitals have probes attached to robotic arms that can hold a transducer in place without tiring for patients who need lengthy imaging, but the liquid ultrasound gel ultimately drains away and dries out, stopping long-term imaging.
The MIT team created an innovative ultrasound sticker that combines a rigid array of transducers with a flexible adhesive layer to deliver higher definition images for a longer time.
The device’s sticky layer is made up of two thin elastomer layers that encircle a centre layer of solid hydrogel, a material that successfully transmits sound waves and is mostly water-based. Unlike traditional ultrasonic gels, the MIT team’s hydrogel is elastic and flexible.
The researchers tested the ultrasound sticker by having healthy volunteers wear it on several body parts, including the neck, chest, abdomen, and arms. The stickers left clear representations of the underlying structures on their skin for up to 48 hours.
Volunteers engaged in a range of activities in the lab during this period, including as standing and sitting, jogging, biking, and lifting weights.
The team was able to observe how the main blood veins’ diameter changed while people were standing or sitting, and they noted this information about deeper organs, such as how exercise changes the shape of the heart.
The scientists could also see the stomach enlarging and then contracting when the participants consumed juice and then passed it out of their systems. Additionally, while some people lifted weights, the team noticed colourful patterns in the muscles beneath them, indicating temporary microdamage.
The team is attempting to turn the stickers into wireless devices. Additionally, they are developing software techniques based on artificial intelligence that will allow for more precise analysis and diagnosis of the sticker pictures.
The ultrasound stickers could be packed and purchased by patients and consumers, and they could be used to monitor various internal organs as well as the development of pregnancies inside women’s wombs in addition to the growth of tumours.