Hand-held ultrasound diagnostics

Concept drawings filed with the patent office by Butterfly Network show ideas for a small, 3-D ultrasound imaging device. Credit: Butterfly Network

A US entrepreneur, Jonathan Rothberg, is betting 100M$ that he can change the way ultrasonic medicine is performed by the end of this decade. His company, Butterfly Network has filed a patent for a chip to produce and analyse ultrasounds. Today ultrasonic equipment is made up of several separate components which make the whole costly and bulky. By having everything integrated on a single chip it ought to become cheaper, smaller to the point of fitting it in a hand and even more important more accurate.

Jonathan is planning to have a software analysing the ultrasound reflections creating a rendered image that can be easier to interpret. He is actually going farther by saying that it will be possibile to compare automatically the images with others to leverage on previous "experience".

Ultrasounds can be used both for looking inside the body with a level of resolution that is today measured in mm and that is expected to improve to µm by the end of this decade and to hit specific points in the tissue with powerful waves that result in the killing of cells. This is used to fight some type of tumours like prostate cancer with a non invasive procedure.

Whilst this latter use will remain strictly under the responsibility of medical doctors, the use of ultrasound diagnostic techniques may be handed over to technicians and may be in a more distant future might become part of our home health care kit, as a thermometer and a blood pressure measuring devices are today. Remember that just 20 years ago blood pressure required a stethoscope and the experience ears of a doctor, whilst today a simple procedure and a number on a screen can tell us what our pressure is (although the blood pressure control pills need to be prescribed by the doctor).

I can easily see a future, in the next decade where many diagnostic tools, that today requires a trip to the hospital or specialised diagnostic centres, will become part of our personal environment (both our home and our wearable fittings...) and where an intelligent data analyser that will capitalise on both the evolving knowledge of our medical profile and on statistical analyses will be able to raise red flags for us to see the appropriate doctor (sometimes just sharing our data with her for a remote appraisal).

Author - Roberto Saracco

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