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MIT’s Revolutionary Ultrasound Wearable Patch

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MIT researchers have introduced medical technology advancements, a wearable ultrasound monitor fashioned as a patch. This innovative device can image internal organs without an ultrasound operator or gel application. Researchers demonstrated the patch’s effectiveness in accurately imaging the bladder and determining its fullness. This holds promising implications for individuals with bladder or kidney disorders, offering a more accessible means to monitor organ functionality.

Image credits: news.mit.edu

Ultrasound, a widely used imaging method employing sound waves, has provided diagnostic insights and guided treatment across various diseases and conditions. This adaptability is achieved by manipulating the location of the ultrasound array and tuning the signal frequency. Such versatility opens the door to earlier detection of deep-seated cancers, including challenging cases like ovarian cancer.

Canan Dagdeviren, an associate professor in MIT’s Media Lab and the senior author of the study, emphasised the versatility of this technology, asserting that it can be applied not only to the bladder but to any deep tissue within the body. She described it as a novel platform capable of identifying and characterising numerous diseases within the human body.

Dagdeviren’s lab, specialising in designing flexible, wearable electronic devices, previously garnered attention for developing an ultrasound monitor incorporated into a bra for breast cancer screening. Building on this expertise, the research team embarked on a new study to create a wearable patch that adheres to the skin and can capture ultrasound images of internal organs.

Dagdeviren’s connection to the cause partly inspired the decision to focus the initial demonstration on the bladder. Her younger brother’s diagnosis of kidney cancer, followed by the surgical removal of one kidney, led to challenges in fully emptying the bladder. The researchers aimed to address such post-surgical complications by developing an ultrasound monitor capable of revealing bladder fullness, potentially benefiting those with similar bladder or kidney issues.

Dagdeviren emphasised the prevalence of bladder dysfunction and related diseases, highlighting the significance of monitoring bladder volume as an effective indicator of kidney health and overall wellness. Currently, measuring bladder volume involves using a traditional, bulky ultrasound probe, necessitating a visit to a medical facility. The MIT team sought to provide a more convenient alternative with a wearable patch that patients could use in the comfort of their homes.

To realise this vision, the researchers crafted a flexible patch using silicone rubber embedded with five ultrasound arrays made from a newly developed piezoelectric material. Arranged in a cross, these arrays enable the patch to comprehensively image the entire bladder, which is approximately 12 by 8 centimetres when complete. The naturally sticky polymer ensures gentle adhesion to the skin, facilitating easy attachment and detachment. Securing the patch in place is further aided by using underwear or leggings.

Collaborating with the Centre for Ultrasound Research and Translation and the Department of Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, the researchers conducted a study demonstrating that their wearable patch produced images comparable to those obtained with a traditional ultrasound probe. These images proved instrumental in tracking changes in bladder volume.

Initially, the researchers connected their ultrasound arrays to a standard ultrasound machine used in medical imaging centres to view the captured images. However, recognising the need for portability, the MIT team is actively developing a compact, smartphone-sized device dedicated to viewing these ultrasound images.

In the next stage, the MIT researchers envision extending their ultrasound technology to image other organs such as the pancreas, liver, and ovaries. Achieving this requires altering the ultrasound signal frequency based on the location and depth of each organ, necessitating the design of new piezoelectric materials. In some cases, particularly for organs situated deep within the body, the researchers contemplate the possibility of the device functioning as an implant rather than a wearable patch.

Dagdeviren outlined the systematic approach they follow in developing these ultrasound devices. It involves selecting the suitable materials, devising the appropriate device design, and fabricating the components accordingly, followed by testing and clinical trials.

Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering, sees this work as a potential focal point in ultrasound research, inspiring a fresh approach to future medical device designs. He anticipates collaborations between materials scientists, electrical engineers, and biomedical researchers, underlining the significance of interdisciplinary efforts in advancing medical technology.

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