A revolutionary ultrasound patch can assess how full a person’s bladder is.
And it could even be used in the future to help spot cancer early, say scientists.
Researchers in the United States have developed a wearable monitor to help those with bladder and kidney disorders.
The intelligent patch is able to image internal organs in the body without the need for either an ultrasound operator or the application of gel.
It is also hoped that the innovative new piece of kit, developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) can be adapted in the future to monitor other organs and promote early detection of cancers.
Dr. Canan Dağdeviren, an associate professor in MIT’s Media Lab and senior author of the study, was partially inspired to invent the wearable patch after her own younger brother was diagnosed with kidney cancer a few years ago.
After having one of his kidneys removed, he had difficulty fully emptying his bladder.
Dr. Dağdeviren’s study, published in the journal Nature Electronics, therefore focused the patch initially on monitoring the bladder.
Dr. Dağdeviren’s lab specializes in designing flexible, wearable electronic devices.
The lab recently developed an ultrasound monitor intended to be incorporated into a bra and used to screen breast cancer.
In their new study, Dr. Dağdeviren’s team applied a similar approach to develop a wearable device that can take ultrasound images of internal organs, helping patients similar to her brother – or people with other types of bladder or kidney problems – monitor the fullness of their bladders.
Currently, the sole method for measuring bladder volume involves using a traditional, bulky ultrasound probe, which requires the patient to attend a medical facility.
So, to develop a wearable device for use at home, the researchers created a flexible patch of silicone rubber embedded with five ultrasound arrays made from a new ‘piezoelectric’ material, that can generate an electric charge in response to applied mechanical stress.
These arrays are positioned in the shape of a cross, which allows the patch to image the entire bladder, which is about 12 by eight centimeters when full.
The polymer that makes up the patch is naturally sticky and is easily attachable and detachable to the skin, and can be held in place with underwear or leggings.
In a study performed with collaborators at the Center for Ultrasound Research and Translation and the Department of Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the researchers showed that the new patch could capture images comparable to those taken with a traditional ultrasound probe, and that these images could be used to track changes in bladder volume.
The researchers recruited 20 patients with a range of body mass indexes who were first imaged with a full bladder, then with a partially empty bladder, and finally with an emptied bladder.
The images obtained using the new patch were found to be similar in quality to those taken with traditional ultrasound equipment, and the arrays were seen to work on all subjects regardless of their individual body mass index.
Additionally, no gel and no pressure needs to be applied to the patch, unlike regular ultrasound probes, as the field of view is large enough to encompass the entire bladder.
To view the images, the researchers simply connected their arrays to ultrasound machines in medical imaging centers.
However, the MIT team is now at work on a portable device – around the size of a smartphone – which would allow wearers to view the images.
“This technology is versatile and can be used not only on the bladder but any deep tissue of the body,” Dr Dağdeviren explained.
“It’s a novel platform that can do identification and characterization of many of the diseases that we carry in our body.
“Millions of people are suffering from bladder dysfunction and related diseases, and not surprisingly, bladder volume monitoring is an effective way to assess your kidney health and wellness.
Dr. Dağdeviren added that her team also hopes to develop similar wearable devices which could be used to image other organs, such as the liver, pancreas or ovaries, and check for signs of cancer.
“For whatever organ that we need to visualize, we go back to the first step, select the right materials, come up with the right device design and fabricate everything accordingly before testing the device and performing clinical trials,” Dr. Dağdeviren said.
Dr. Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering and another author of the paper, added: “This work could develop into a central area of focus in ultrasound research, motivate a new approach to future medical device designs, and lay the groundwork for many more fruitful collaborations between materials scientists, electrical engineers, and biomedical researchers.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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