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Wearable Ultrasound Stickers

August 10, 2022 - Parul Saini, Webmedy Team


Researchers at MIT have developed ultrasound stickers. These ultrasound stickers, which are stamp-sized devices, can stick to the skin and can provide continuous ultrasound imaging of internal organs for up to 48 hours.

Before we go into details of this ultrasound sticker device, let us first look at how ultrasound imaging, also called as sonography, currently works.

What is Ultrasound?

Ultrasound is composed of sound waves with frequencies which are significantly higher than the range of human hearing (>20,000 Hz).

Ultrasonic images, also known as sonograms, are created by sending pulses of ultrasound into tissue using a probe. The ultrasound pulses echo off tissues with different reflection properties and are returned to the probe which records and displays them as an image.

How is Ultrasound used today?

To image with ultrasound, a technician first applies a liquid gel to a patient's skin, which acts to transmit ultrasound waves. A probe, or transducer, is then pressed against the gel, sending pulses of ultrasound waves into the body. The ultrasound pulses echo off tissues with different reflection properties and are returned to the probe which records and displays them as an image.

For patients who require long periods of imaging, some hospitals offer probes affixed to robotic arms that can hold a transducer in place without tiring, but the liquid ultrasound gel flows away and dries out over time, interrupting long-term imaging.

Now, let us look at how ultrasound stickers developed by MIT researchers work.

Design of MIT Ultrasound Stickers

  • The ultrasound sticker pairs a stretchy adhesive layer with a rigid array of transducers.
  • The adhesive layer is made from two thin layers of elastomer that encapsulate a middle layer of solid hydrogel. Hydrogel is a mostly water-based material that easily transmits sound waves. Unlike traditional ultrasound gels, the MIT team's hydrogel is elastic and stretchy.
  • The layers of elastomer that encapsulates hydrogel prevent dehydration of hydrogel.
  • The bottom elastomer layer is designed to stick to skin, while the top layer adheres to a rigid array of transducers.
  • The ultrasound sticker produces higher resolution images over a longer duration, of upto 48 hours.
  • The entire ultrasound sticker is the size of a postage stamp with area size of 2 square centimeters and a thickness of 3 millimeters.

The current design requires connecting the stickers to instruments that translate the reflected sound waves into images. However, the team is currently working to make these devices operate wirelessly with a phone or gadget, where AI algorithms would analyze the images and display results.

Not only does this provide a smaller, more compact method of ultrasound imaging, but if these stickers could be packaged and sent to remote locations, a doctor could perform an ultrasound screening of a patient from thousands of miles away. This would make diagnostics of organ health, disease, or pregnancy much more accessible in the world of remote patient monitoring (RPM).

This developement could make ultrasound a new entrant to the world of wearable technology. People could buy wearable ultrasound stickers from pharmacies just like band-aids.

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