images, known as sonograms, have become a familiar part of pregnancy, allowing
      expectant parents a view of their unborn child. But new research at Massachusetts
      Institute of Technology (MIT) could improve the ability of untrained workers to
      perform basic ultrasound tests, while allowing trained workers to much more
      accurately track the development of medical conditions, such as the growth of a
      tumor or the buildup of plaque in arteries.

      improvements to this widely used technology could provide detailed information
      far beyond what is possible with existing systems, the researchers say. The
      work, led by Brian W. Anthony, co-director of MIT’s Medical Electronic Device
      Realization Center (MEDRC) and director of the Master of Engineering in
      Manufacturing Program, was recently presented at the International Symposium on
      Biomedical Imaging in Barcelona,

      are two key elements to the improvements engineered by Anthony and his team.
      First, the researchers devised a way to adjust for variations in the force
      exerted by a sonographer, producing more consistent images that can compensate
      for body motions such as breathing and heartbeat. Second, they provided a way
      to map the exact location on the skin where one reading was taken, so that it
      can be precisely matched with later readings to detect changes in the size or
      location of a tumor, clot, or other structure.

      the two improvements could make sonography a much more precise tool for
      monitoring the progression of disease, Anthony says. The devices are currently
      undergoing three clinical trials, including one at Boston Children’s Hospital
      focused on monitoring the progression of patients with Duchenne Muscular
      Dystrophy (DMD).

      that trial, Anthony says, researchers are trying to determine “how fast the
      muscle deteriorates, and how effective different medications are.” It’s
      important to have a reliable way of monitoring changes in muscle, he says. The
      study is aimed at determining whether ultrasound analysis can serve as a
      convenient, noninvasive, clinically meaningful way of monitoring disease
      progression in DMD.

      new device maintains constant force through the addition of a force sensor to
      its probe tip and servomotors that can respond almost instantly to changes in
      force. That, in turn, makes it possible to analyze how the image varies as the
      force increases, which can provide important diagnostic information about the
      elasticity of skin, muscle, and other tissues.

      provide accurate positioning, a tiny camera and lens mounted on the probe can
      reveal skin patterns that are distinctive and constant, similar to
      fingerprints. “Skin patterns are pretty unique,” Anthony says; his team’s
      system, using software to compare new images with earlier ones, “can get you
      back to that same patch of skin,” something that is impossible to do manually.

      likens that precise positioning to “an on-the-patient GPS system” for locating
      structures in the body. The ability to take images over time from exactly the
      same position makes it possible to monitor changing tissues quite precisely:
      The imaging system can determine the volume of a near-surface tumor or other
      feature to within an accuracy of 1% to 2%, he says. There are existing ways to
      get this kind of accuracy, but these require expensive specialized equipment
      that few hospitals have.

      the potential for these advanced diagnostic capabilities, enhanced control over
      testing could make it possible for relatively untrained health care workers to
      administer basic ultrasound pregnancy tests—especially in remote, underserved
      areas where trained sonographers may not be available. The various control
      techniques “take the uncertainty out” of the process, Anthony says.

      Steiner, an anesthesiologist at Chester
      County Hospital
      in Pennsylvania,
      says, “I’m excited about the prospects” of these improved systems. “The
      reproducibility of the scan with consistent pressure and picture quality would
      help with remote readings of locally done scans. This could be relevant for
      teleradiology, which is an area ripe for expansion.”

      adds: “The field of ultrasound is still developing. Ultrasound will partially
      replace CT scans, reduce radiation exposure to patients and make diagnosing
      easier when away from the high-cost hospitals. It can help our world provide
      care at a more reasonable cost with a new paradigm of care.”

      Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology