Nov 3, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers from Duke University and Stanford University have used a $10 microchip to make a simple 3D ultrasound imaging device that produces 3D scans similar in quality to CT or MRI scans. The 3D printed device works like a Nintendo Wii controller, by working out its orientation at a given point.

3D ultrasound machines can cost around $250,000, around five times more than their 2D counterparts. But thanks to a $10 microchip—the kind used in a Wii remote—these Duke and Stanford innovators have managed to add 3D capabilities to a 2D system at a sliver of the cost usually required.

The budget microchip, roughly the size of a fingernail, is used to register orientation. By adding it to a regular ultrasound probe using a 3D printed clip-on attachment, the researchers can turn the hundreds of 2D images gathered by the probe into a complete 3D image.

Software is used to stitch these hundreds of images together. And because the microchip tells the software which direction it was facing for any given image, it knows exactly how every snapshot fits together.

The resulting 3D model is similar in quality to a model produced by a CT scan or an MRI scan. And the better the ultrasound machine being used, the higher the quality of the generated 3D image.

“With 2D technology you see a visual slice of an organ, but without any context, you can make mistakes,” said Duke Health’s Joshua Broder, M.D., one of the technology’s creators. “These are problems that can be solved with the added orientation and holistic context of 3D technology. Gaining that ability at an incredibly low cost by taking existing machines and upgrading them seemed like the best solution to us.”

Funnily enough, Broder was actually inspired to develop the ultrasound device after playing the Nintendo Wii with his son.

After first condidering using the entire Wii remote attached to a probe, Broder eventually teamed up with researchers Matt Morgan, Carl Herickhoff, and Jeremy Dahl at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, who helped the doctor turn his idea into a more practical product.

At Duke, the team 3D printed various prototypes of the imaging device, which clips onto an existing probe to equip it with 3D imaging powers. The team even 3D printed a plastic stand which can be used to steady the probe.

Cables connected to the snap-on device link it to a computer, which can bring up a 3D model in seconds as the user moves the probe over the subject.

The cheap device seems like a great solution to the problem of expensive 3D ultrasound machines, and clinical trials are currently taking place at both Duke and Stanford to see how it fares. The researchers think the device could be especially useful in areas where CT and MRI scanners aren’t available, such as rural or developing areas.

“With trauma patients in the emergency department, we face a dilemma,” Broder said. “Do we take them to the operating room not knowing the extent of their internal injuries or bleeding, or do we risk transporting them to a CT scanner, where their condition could worsen due to a delay in care?”

The Wii-inspired 3D imaging probe could provide the perfect compromise, the researchers believe.

“With our new 3D technique, we hope to demonstrate that we can determine the source of bleeding, measure the rate of bleeding right at the bedside, and determine whether an operation is really needed,” Broder explained.

Another advantage of the 3D device is its safety. While CT scanners can be harmful to newborn babies because of radiation, the Wii-like device was successfully used to monitor the brain of a seven-month-old baby with hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain).

“Ultrasound is such a beautiful technology because it’s inexpensive, it’s portable, and it’s completely safe in every patient,” said Broder. “It’s brought to the bedside and it doesn’t interfere with patient care.”

Broder and the team have filed an international patent for their creation, and think they could have the product on the market within a couple of years. They’re also looking at other ways they can improve existing ultrasound technology.

“In emergency medicine, we use ultrasound to look at every part of the body—to look at blood vessels that we put catheters into, to checking on a trauma patient to see where they’re bleeding,” Broder said. “In this case we can augment 2D machines and improve every one of those applications.”

The new imaging device was presented at the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) Research Forum in Washington, D.C. on October 31. The presentation involved Broder, Herickhoff, Dahl, and Morgan, as well as Duke’s Elias J. Jaffa, Brendan P. Smith, and Erica Peethumnongsin.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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