MIT Engineers Develop Ultrasound Stickers That Can See Inside Your Body

ultrasound patch
A group of MIT engineers have developed a stamp-sized ultrasound adhesive that can produce clear images of the heart, lungs, and other internal organs. The hope is that these small devices could replace the need for bulky equipment in certain situations in the future.

If someone is in need of an ultrasound currently, they typically must visit a hospital or doctor's office that has the required equipment and technician to operate it. The process can be long and drawn out, as technicians have to apply a specialized gel to an ultrasound wand needed to direct sound waves into the body. However, researchers at MIT have developed a small patch that can be worn on a patient's body as a wearable device, which will hopefully be as accessible as Band-Aids at a pharmacy one day.

The engineers have published a paper in Science, which presents the design for the new ultrasound sticker. The stamp-sized device adheres to the skin and can provide continuous ultrasound imaging of internal organs for up to 48 hours.

Currently the design requires connecting the stickers to instruments that can translate the reflected sound waves into images. Even in its current form, the stickers can have immediate applications, such as being applied to patients in hospitals in the same fashion as heart monitoring EKG stickers. This could relieve the need for technicians to hold a probe in place for long periods of time and improve patient comfort as well.

The long term goal is to make the ultrasound stickers operate wirelessly. If this can be achieved, patients could simply have the patch applied at a hospital or doctor's office and wear them home. At some point, they could even be made available at your local pharmacy and negating the need for a doctor's visit altogether.

"We envision a few patches adhered to different locations on the body, and the patches would communicate with your cellphone, where AI algorithms would analyze the images on demand," remarked the study's senior author, Xuanhe Zhao, professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering at MIT. "We believe we've opened a new era of wearable imaging: With a few patches on your body, you could see your internal organs."

Chonghe Wang, an MIT graduate student, believes a wearable ultrasound imaging tool will have a large impact in the future of clinical diagnosis. Wang notes that prior technology for wearables produces low resolution images that are often distorted due to body movement, and cannot image deep organs.

The new MIT ultrasound sticker produces higher resolution images over a longer period of time. This is achieved by pairing a stretchy adhesive layer with a rigid array of transducers. "This combination enables the device to conform to the skin while maintaining the relative location of transducers to generate clearer and more precise images," Wang remarked.

Zhao says the team imagines having a box of stickers, each designed to image a different location of the body. The team believes the current breakthroughs they have made represents future innovations in wearable devices and medical imaging.

Top Image Credit: MIT/Felice Frankel