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PolyU develops tiny 3D ultrasound imaging system

Image Credits: HK PolyU, Press Release

Researchers at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) announced their top experts in scoliosis research have developed a portable imaging system developed. The technology will enable a greater number of youngsters to have their scoliosis conditions detected early and monitored frequently.

Scolioscan Air, first-of-its-kind palm-sized 3D ultrasound imaging system, will be used for radiation-free scoliosis assessment. It can bring accurate, safe and cost-efficient mass screening to schools and anywhere in the community.

The portable system was developed by the research team of PolyU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) was recently awarded Grand Award, Gold Medal with the Congratulations of Jury, and Special Merit Award at a massive international convention held in April 2019.

Scoliosis is one of the most prevalent spinal diseases affecting adolescents. It is estimated that about 3% to 5% of adolescents in Hong Kong suffering from scoliosis, with increasing prevalence in recent years. The early detection of scoliosis conditions and regular check-up during the rapid growth period of adolescent school-children is thus crucial.

Currently, X-ray imaging is the clinical benchmark for scoliosis assessment. However, radiation exposure may pose an increased risk of cancer.

PolyU’s game-changing scoliosis imaging technology

According to the lead researchers, the new system is the most advanced system. It is based on the PolyU-developed 3D ultrasound imaging technology, trademarked under the name Scolioscan. This device weighs approximately 150 kg and was successfully commercialised into a clinic-based facility in 2016.

As the Scolioscan is radiation-free and more cost-effective than prevailing X-ray imaging technologies, it can facilitate mass screening and frequent follow-up monitoring.

Clinical trials have proven the novel technology is very reliable, with an accuracy of curve measurement comparable to X-ray assessment. Moreover, it can obtain an image in any postures, provide vertebra rotation and muscle-related information, and form a 3D spinal model for the three-dimensional analysis of deformity of the spine. All these cannot be achieved by X-ray imaging systems commonly used at present.

The system can also be applied to conducting prognosis and monitoring treatment outcomes for each scoliosis patient so as to establish a personalised treatment plan.

The new tech facilitates screening anywhere, anytime

Continuing to set new standards, PolyU’s research team has applied the novel technology to a portable palm-sized Scolioscan Air, which has been further developed. The device only weighs only 5 kg.

It was noted that with this innovation brings the device and mass screening service to the youngsters anywhere, anytime. It will facilitate the implementation of school-based scoliosis screening to detect and treat spinal curvatures before they become severe enough to cause chronic pain or other health issues among adolescents.

In addition, when providing non-surgical treatment for scoliosis patients, healthcare personnel can use Scolioscan Air to conduct a real-time assessment, so as to optimise the treatment outcome.”

The device consists of three hardware components:
i) a palm-sized wireless ultrasound probe with an optical marker mounted at its bottom;
ii) a depth camera; and
iii) a laptop or tablet computer with dedicated software. The compact optical marker and depth camera replace the spatial sensor used in Scolioscan and thus help dramatically downsize the device.

In addition, the technology for 3D ultrasound image reconstruction, visualisation and measurement, including a fully automatic curvature measurement method and 3D spinal deformity analysis software, developed by the team earlier can also be applied to the device.

The newly developed optical 3D spatial tracking method for Scolioscan Air achieves a high degree of accuracy, which is comparable with Scolioscan. Moreover, technological compatibility makes the smaller device readily available for commercialisation for popular use. With dramatically reduced material cost, size and weight compared with other scanning systems, Scolioscan Air can be carried within a suitcase.

The original device has been registered as a medical device in different countries since 2016, including the European Union and Australia. A total of 23 patents globally for the related technology have been awarded to or filed by, PolyU and the collaborating company. The clinic-based systems have been installed in clinics in Hong Kong, Macau, the Mainland, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, etc; and have been used for scoliosis scanning for over 4,000 patients.

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