Put a device on your chest that not only shows your heart, but a real-time image of your heart beating on your chest. Researchers may be taking the first step down that path by creating a wearable ultrasound patch — think Band-Aid when it comes to ultrasound — that provides a flexible way to look deep inside the body.
Ultrasound, which records tissues and fluids by recording how sound waves bounce off them, can help doctors track organs for damage, cancer, or even bacteria. (SN: 1/3/18). However, most ultrasound devices are not portable, and they are weak or can be used for single-spot applications or for short periods only.
The new patch can work for up to 48 hours straight — even while the wearer is doing something active, like exercising. And the tiny device looks just as good as the more familiar hospital device, researchers report on July 29 Science.
“This is a first,” said Xuanhe Zhao, a mechanical engineer at MIT. His team plans to create a wireless patch and interface with a user’s phone, which could then display ultrasound signals as 3-D images.
Medical facilities range widely. It attaches a patch over a person’s heart, and it takes multiple images to help predict heart attacks and blood clots potentially months before a catastrophic event, explains Aparna Singh, a biomedical engineer at Columbia University. For a patient with COVID-19, the patch — which is only about the size of a quarter — could be an easy way to catch lung problems as they develop.
“This also has huge potential to be available in developing countries” where limited access to healthcare can make monitoring more difficult, Singh says. It costs about $100 to make a full one. One of the next steps for the researchers will be to try to make a cheaper device.
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