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New stamp-sized ultrasound adhesives produce clear images of heart, lungs and other internal organs – ScienceDaily


Ultrasound imaging is a safe and non-invasive window into the workings of the body, providing clinicians with live images of a patient’s internal organs. To make these images, trained professionals manipulate ultrasound wands and probes to direct sound waves into the body. These waves are reflected back, creating high-resolution images of the patient’s heart, lungs and other deep organs.

Currently, ultrasound imaging requires bulky and specialized equipment available only in hospitals and doctor’s offices. But a new design by MIT engineers could make this technology as convenient and affordable as buying Band-Aids at the pharmacy.

In the newspaper published today in Scienceengineers present the design of a new ultrasound patch, a stamp-sized device that sticks to the skin and can provide continuous ultrasound imaging of internal organs for 48 hours.

The researchers put stickers on volunteers and showed that the devices produced live, high-resolution images of major blood vessels and deeper organs such as the heart, lungs and stomach. The stickers maintained a strong adhesion and recorded changes in the underlying organs as the volunteers performed various activities, including sitting, standing, jogging and cycling.

Current designs require attaching the stickers to instruments that translate the reflected sound waves into images. The researchers note that even in their current form, the stickers could have immediate applications: for example, the devices could be applied to patients in a hospital, much like EKG heart monitoring stickers, and could continuously image internal organs without requiring maintenance. keep the probe in place for a long time.

If the devices can work wirelessly—a goal the team is currently working on—the ultrasound stickers could be turned into imaging products that patients can take home from the doctor’s office or even buy at the pharmacy.

“We envisage that multiple patches will be stuck to different places on the body, and these patches will communicate with your mobile phone, where artificial intelligence algorithms will analyze the images on demand,” said the study’s senior author Xuanhe Zhao, professor of mechanical engineering and civil and civil engineering. art. environmental engineering at MIT. “We think we’ve ushered in a new era of wearable imaging: with a few spots on your body, you can see your internal organs.”

The study also includes lead authors Zhonghe Wang and Xiaoyu Chen, and co-authors Liu Wang, Mitsutoshi Makihata and Tao Zhao of MIT, and Xiao-Chuan Liu of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

A sticky problem

To detect with ultrasound, the technician first applies a liquid gel that allows ultrasound waves to pass through the patient’s skin. A probe or transducer is then pressed against the gel, sending sound waves into the body that bounce off internal structures and return to the probe, where the echo signals are converted into visual images.

For patients requiring extended imaging periods, some hospitals offer probes attached to robotic arms that can hold the transducer in place without tiring, but the liquid ultrasound gel eventually leaks and dries, interrupting long-term imaging.

In recent years, researchers have explored designs for stretchable ultrasound probes that would provide portable, low-profile images of internal organs. These designs yielded a flexible array of tiny ultrasound sensors, the idea being that such a device would stretch and conform to the patient’s body.

But these experimental designs produce low-resolution images, in part because of their stretching: As they move with the body, the transducers shift their location relative to each other, distorting the resulting image.

“A wearable ultrasound imaging tool will have enormous potential in the future of clinical diagnostics. However, the resolution and imaging duration of existing ultrasound patches are relatively low, and they cannot detect deep organs,” says Junghe Wang, a graduate student at MIT.

View from the inside

The MIT team’s new ultrasound sticker produces higher-resolution images over a longer period of time by combining a flexible adhesive layer with a rigid array of sensors. “This combination allows the device to conform to the skin while maintaining the relative positioning of the sensors for sharper and more accurate images.” Wang says.

The adhesive layer of the device consists of two thin layers of elastomer that enclose a middle layer of hard hydrogel, a mostly water-based material that easily transmits sound waves. Unlike traditional ultrasound gels, the MIT team’s hydrogel is flexible and elastic.

“The elastomer prevents dehydration of the hydrogel,” says Chen, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT. “Only when the hydrogel is highly hydrated can the acoustic waves effectively penetrate and provide high-resolution images of internal organs.”

The bottom layer of elastomer is designed to adhere to the skin, while the top layer adheres to a solid array of transducers that the team also designed and manufactured. The entire ultrasonic sticker is about 2 square centimeters across and 3 millimeters thick – about the size of a postage stamp.

The researchers put the ultrasound sticker through a series of tests with healthy volunteers who wore the stickers on different parts of the body, including the neck, chest, abdomen and arms. The stickers remained attached to their skin and produced clear images of the underlying structures for 48 hours. During this time, the volunteers performed various activities in the laboratory, from sitting and standing to jogging, cycling and lifting weights.

From the images of the stickers, the team was able to observe the change in the diameter of the main blood vessels in the sitting and standing position. The stickers also capture details of deeper organs, such as how the heart changes shape under stress during exercise. The researchers were also able to watch the stomach expand and then contract as the volunteers drank and then expelled the juice from their system. And when some volunteers lifted weights, the team could detect bright patterns in the underlying muscles, signaling temporary micro-damage.

“With imaging, we could capture the moment of exercise before overexertion and stop before the muscles start to hurt,” says Chen. “We don’t yet know when that moment might come, but now we can provide imaging data that experts can interpret.”

The team is working on making the stickers work wirelessly. They are also developing AI-based software algorithms that can better interpret and diagnose sticker images. Zhao then envisions that patients and consumers can package and purchase ultrasound stickers and use them not only to monitor various internal organs, but also the progression of tumors, as well as fetal development in the womb.

“We envision that we could have a box of stickers, each designed to represent a different part of the body,” Zhao says. “We believe this represents a breakthrough in wearables and medical imaging.”

This research was funded in part by MIT, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the US Army Research Office through the MIT Military Nanotechnology Institute.

Video: https://youtu.be/Kn2J8W4csNc

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