William D. Richard, Ph.D., WUSTL (Washington University of St Louis) associate professor of computer science and engineering, and David Zar, research associate in computer science and engineering, have made commercial USB ultrasound probes compatible with Microsoft Windows mobile-based smartphones.
In order to make commercial USB ultrasound probes work with smartphones, the researchers had to optimize every aspect of probe design and operation, from power consumption and data transfer rate to image formation algorithms. As a result, it is now possible to build smartphone-compatible USB ultrasound probes for imaging the kidney, liver, bladder and eyes, endocavity probes for prostate and uterine screenings and biopsies, and vascular probes for imaging veins and arteries for starting IVs and central lines. Both medicine and global computer use will never be the same.
“Twenty-first century medicine is defined by medical imaging,” said Zar. “Yet 70 percent of the world’s population has no access to medical imaging. It’s hard to take an MRI or CT scanner to a rural community without power.”
A typical, portable ultrasound device may cost as much as $30,000. Some of these USB-based probes sell for less than $2,000 with the goal of a price tag as low as $500.
The electronics for the ultraprobe have shrunk over 25 years from cabinet-sized to a tiny circuit board one inch by three inches (left). WUSTL’s William D. Richard and Dave Zar have wedded a small, portable ultra sound imaging device with a smartphone (right).
Richard and Zar have discussed a potential collaboration with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology about integrating their probe-smartphone concept into a suite of field trials for medical applications in developing countries.
“We’re at the point of wanting to leverage what we’ve done with this technology and find as many applications as possible,” Richard said.
One such application could find its way to the military. Medics could quickly diagnose wounded soldiers with the small, portable probe and phone to detect quickly the site of shrapnel wounds in order to make the decision of transporting the soldier or treating him elsewhere on the field.