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Ultrasound stickers could continuously visualize internal organs for days

A postage stamp-sized patch can provide ultrasound images continuously for 48 hours, and has been used to observe changes in the lungs, hearts and stomachs of people who exercise and drink


28 July 2022

An ultrasound patch made with a water-based hydrogel.

Chonghe Wang, Xiaoyu Chen, Liu Wang, Mitsutoshi Makihata, Hsiao-Chuan Liu, Tao Zhou, Xuanhe Zhao

Postage stamp-sized patches attached to the skin can provide continuous ultrasound images of internal organs for 48 hours. This can reveal details such as the shape of the human heart changing during exercise, or the stomach expanding and shrinking when a person eats or drinks.

“Welcome to the era of ‘portable images,'” says Xuan He Zhao at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Many researchers have been trying to develop portable ultrasound devices made of flexible materials. But they have found it difficult to create flexible devices that stay attached to the skin for more than a few hours while still allowing for high-resolution ultrasound imaging.

Zhao and his colleagues solved that by combining a rigid transducer component that produces and detects ultrasound waves with a soft, sticky patch. The patch includes a layer of water-based hydrogel, to transmit ultrasound waves, sandwiched between two layers of flexible elastomeric material to prevent the hydrogel from dehydrating.

The team applied ultrasound stickers to the arm, neck, chest, and waist of 15 volunteers who drank juice, lifted weights, jogged, or rode a bike in the lab. During these activities, ultrasound images of the stickers revealed changes in the size and shape of the lungs. , diaphragm, heart, stomach and the main 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 must be connected via cables to a computer that translates the ultrasound waves into images and collects the data, meaning it’s not a fully portable system.

Still, “point-of-care ultrasound devices with a data acquisition system the size of a cell phone already exist,” says Zhao. That gives you confidence that the computing component can be miniaturized and eventually integrated with the ultrasound tag to become a fully portable, truly wireless imaging system.

“It’s really innovative and really tries to bring portable ultrasound closer to the patient,” he says. Nanshu Lu at the University of Texas at Austin.

This effort may benefit medical companies already working to miniaturize the computing components used with portable ultrasound probes, says Lu.

Ultrasound stickers may provide a more flexible imaging option for hospitals to monitor patients without the need for human technicians to hold ultrasound probes, and could be useful in situations where technicians are in short supply. “You don’t need a trained sonographer and you don’t need a huge ultrasound machine,” he says. philip tan at the University of Texas at Austin. “I could implement it in very low-income communities.”

In the long run, these stickers could help monitor the lungs of covid-19 patients at home, keep an eye on people managing cardiovascular disease, track a growing cancerous tumor, or even provide ongoing monitoring for a growing fetus. The uterus. Low-power ultrasound waves have no known risks, but the team says they will study the possible side effects of prolonged exposure in the future.

Magazine reference: Sciences, DOI: 10.1126/science.abo2542

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