Did you know your dog can hear ultrasound? So can mice, cats, and bats. In fact, ultrasound, or, echolocation, was first observed in bats by Lazzaro Spallanzani in 1794. Since then, mankind has sought to understand this natural phenomenon and employ it for its own use.
Since Spallanzani’s days, the development of ultrasound technology has picked up momentum, especially since the 1940’s. Most recently, however, ultrasound technology has evolved both instrumentally and practically in regards to the applications it offers. Following is a brief look at what is happening in ultrasound today.
One of the more radical areas of evolution in ultrasound has been the miniaturization of the machines. Once heavy, bulky, and difficult to move, forcing them to be idol in a room like a CT scan machine might, and, because of its size and expense, only hospitals could own a unit. There were other limitations that have been overcome, but perhaps none more profoundly than the development of portable ultrasound.
Portable ultrasound has brought the older expansive machine down to portability with some machines as light as 8 pounds. With battery technology improving, these units were able to travel with a technician or physician to remote places and serve people. Well, just like the cell phone was nearly the size of a shoe box yet are now remarkably small with significantly greater power, so is the new ultraportable ultrasound machine.
The new GE Vscan is a little over 12 ounces and has a 3.5” color screen with voice annotation for the doctor’s remarks, distance measurement, and two imaging modes. It is designed to work in seven internal areas, including cardiac, abdominal, selected peripheral vessels, urology, fetal and OB/Gyn. It has an intuitive interface that allows it to be operated with just a thumb as the other hand moves the transducer.
This pocket unit is cost effective at just under $8,000, which is significantly less expensive than even refurbished portable ultrasound units. Its size and cost make it a perfect device for those working in third world and emerging nations.
Medical Missions and Ultrasound
Organizations like Doctors Without Borders, the Assemblies of God Medical Missions, or Helping Hands Medical Missions, and so many of the hundreds of organizations out there that provide medical assistance to nations which are impoverished or unable to adequately care for all of their people, now bring more than dental instruments and vaccinations with them as many now carry along portable ultrasound machines with them to these areas. Portable ultrasound machines are lightweight, with the average weight of about 10 pounds. They generally have long battery lives and can stream information about patients to a data base if an internet connection is available. This information could be critical to an attending physician sometime down the road. Pictures and 4D video can be stored. Moreover, ultrasound allows these medical missionaries to perform diagnostics on patient’s hearts, organs, ligaments, muscles, and fetus’. Up until recently, much of the world did not have access to this technology. Now, especially with the low-cost ultraportable ultrasound discussed above, expect to see them ubiquitously around the world in the hands of medical professionals.
Ultrasound Kills Bacteria
Most believe that ultrasound medically is simply a diagnostic tool that allows doctors to non-invasively look into many areas of their patient’s bodies. But there is more to it, including being used as a guide during biopsies, but also, as impressively, now being able to kill bacteria.
High-powered ultrasound is currently being used like a welder’s torch when it comes to cell disruption, welding and vaporization, and particle size reduction. Research has demonstrated its ability to kill 99.99% of bacteria spores in only 30 seconds.
Known as non-contact ultrasound (NCU), bacteria spores were placed in an envelope. High-powered ultrasound was directed at the spores without touching them and was able to have the kill success rate listed above. There are numerous applications for this discovery, including using NCU to decontaminate and sterilize medical equipment, food, clean air ducts more rapidly with greater results, and more.
Ultrasound therapy was first used on Olympic athletes in France in the early 19th century. However, now it is fast becoming utilized in greater measure in physical therapy and rehab. Muscles with tears, certain types of ligament strains, arthritis, back problems, neck issues, and others, can get the warm flow of non-toxic ultrasound at the location of the injury to speed up the blood flow, which bring nutrient s and other healing properties to the site, and watch the speed at which the body heals over common treatments. Additionally, ultrasound therapy may reduce the swelling of the injured area, which also speeds up healing. Finally, it can be used as a light massage device on wounded and strained areas.
Ultrasound Can Now Detect Appendicitis
In days past, it would take a CT scan to really determine if someone was having an appendix problem, whether it be clogged one or one that was about to burst from being clogged too long. CT scans take time, are costly, emit harmful radiation, and are uncomfortable for the patient. Now, ultrasound can detect whether or not what the patient is experiencing is in fact an appendicitis. Because ultrasound can be set up in minutes and results follow as quickly, the patient is taken care of faster and the doctor does not have to perform an exploratory surgery just to see as it is very difficult to diagnose. Not anymore for those who have ultrasound available.
Ultrasound Next: The Clinical Trial
Phase III of a clinical trial has begun with ExAblate Neuro as it seeks approval for a new technology that uses ultrasound from the FDA. They are working on an emerging technology that is tackling a problem that millions of people globally suffer from: Essential Tremor. Those with this nerve disorder have a hard time eating, drinking, and performing many other functions with their hands as a result, and it makes for a challenging life. While it is not a life-threatening disorder, the cause of Essential Tremor is not completely understood, though it is believed that it most likely is a result of a genetic mutation.
High-powered ultrasound, in conjunction with an MRI to monitor pain, location, visualization, and more, is targeted at tissue that may be causing the nerve disorder, and, thus, killing it. It is a non-invasive way to get through the skull and deal quickly and pain free with this problem. Once the company finishes phase III and the results are acceptable, this will no doubt be used broadly to everyone who wants the treatment. They have been successful at other levels of testing thus far.
As you see, ultrasound has more applications than the standards, like viewing a baby in its mother’s womb. It also continues evolving not only in applications, but in technological size. Companies like Imaging Associates, providers of a wide range of imaging equipment, frequently provide resources on the latest trends and uses of ultrasound to assist them with their patients. Each year new surprises emerge. What will happen this year?
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