A wearable ultrasound “sticker” that enables high-quality, continuous medical imaging of internal organs and tissues for up to 48 hours has been developed by researchers from MIT. The stickers may lead to improved diagnostic and monitoring technologies for various diseases and provide new insights into developmental biology.
The work was led by Xuanhe Zhao, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering at MIT. It was published in Science.
Their sticker, which they call a bioadhesive ultrasound (BAUS) device, overcomes many of these limitations. It consists of a thin and rigid probe that adheres to the skin with a durable, stretchy material that is also soft and comfortable. The device’s adhesive layer is made from two thin layers of elastomer that encapsulate a middle layer of solid hydrogel, a mostly water-based material that easily transmits sound waves. Unlike traditional ultrasound gels, the MIT team’s hydrogel is elastic and stretchy.
The bottom elastomer layer is designed to stick to the skin, while the top layer adheres to a rigid array of transducers that the team also designed and fabricated. The entire ultrasound sticker measures about 2 cm2 across and 3 mm thick.
The researchers tested the devices on volunteers, who wore the stickers on various parts of their bodies, including the neck, chest, abdomen, and arms. The devices produced live, high-resolution images of major blood vessels and deeper organs such as the heart, lungs, and stomach. They maintained strong adhesion and captured changes under various environmental conditions and for different patient movements, including jogging, drinking fluids, and lifting weights.
From the stickers’ images, the team could observe the changing diameter of major blood vessels when seated versus standing. The stickers also captured details of deeper organs, such as how the heart changes shape as it exerts during exercise. The researchers were also able to watch the stomach distend, then shrink back as volunteers drank then later passed juice out of their system. And as some volunteers lifted weights, the team could detect bright patterns in underlying muscles, signaling temporary microdamage.
The current design requires connecting the devices to instruments that translate the reflected sound waves into images. But if the devices can be made to operate wirelessly—a goal the team is currently working toward—they could be made into wearable imaging products that patients could take home from a doctor’s office.
They envision a few patches adhered to different locations on the body, and the patches would communicate with your cellphone. They have opened a new era of wearable imaging: With a few patches on your body, you could see your internal organs.
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Dr. Eric L Reese I
Dr. Eric L. Reese is a 25+ year veteran in the life sciences industry focusing primarily on sales, marketing and business development for startup companies with disruptive technologies. Also, Dr. Reese has authored articles and presented globally on the utility of market-driven applications approaches to sales and marketing for the life sciences market space. To date Dr. Reese has spearheaded over 50+ industry collaborations focused on market development and sales growth utilizing his market-driven applications approach for the life sciences market space.