A postage stamp-sized sticker has been hailed as a revolution in medical imaging.
The wearable technology scans a patient’s insides for up to 48 hours while allowing them to go about their daily life.
The stick-on patch captures vital images of blood vessels, the digestive system and internal organs over two days, giving doctors a more detailed picture of the wearer’s health than the snapshots provided by routine scans.
In laboratory tests, researchers used the patches to watch people’s hearts change shape during exercise, their stomachs expand and shrink as they drank and passed drinks, and their muscles pick up microdamage when weightlifting.
The bioadhesive ultrasound (or Baus) patch contains an array of tiny sensors (piezoelectric transducers) that beam ultrasonic waves through the skin and into the body. These waves bounce off blood vessels, tissues and internal organs and are detected by the same elements in the patch.
Currently, the patch must be connected to an instrument that turns the reflections into images, but the researchers are developing a wireless patch to work with software on a mobile phone.
However, even without a wireless version, the patches could make an immediate difference in hospitals, the researchers say, by monitoring patients’ insides while they lie in bed, much as stick-on electrodes are used to monitor their heart activity.
Ultrasound scans are extremely common, with NHS England performing more than 8m last year. But the technique has major limitations, requiring highly trained sonographers to place and orient the probes on patients’ bodies to get high-quality images. For this reason, most ultrasound scans are brief and performed on patients who are required to keep still while the images are taken.
Wireless patches could sidestep some of these problems, as they can be fixed in position and left to take images for hours, and even days, at a time, the researchers say. Beyond scanning organs for early signs of disease, the “set and forget” patches could monitor bladder function, tumors, and the development of foetuses in the womb.
Prof Xuanhe Zhao at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the research team, said the patches could “revolutionise” medical imaging because existing scans are very brief, sometimes lasting only seconds, and usually have to be performed in hospitals.
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