TORONTO: Scientists have developed a low-cost, wearable ultrasound probe that can be powered by a smartphone and could dramatically lower the cost of medical scans.

Conventional ultrasound scanners use piezoelectric crystals to create images of the inside of the body and send them to a computer to create sonograms. 

Engineers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada developed a portable device—no bigger than a Band-Aid—that could dramatically lower the cost of ultrasound scanners to as little as USD 100.

Researchers replaced the piezoelectric crystals with tiny vibrating drums made of polymer resin, called polyCMUTs (polymer capacitive micro-machined ultrasound transducers), which are cheaper to manufacture.

“Transducer drums have typically been made out of rigid silicon materials that require costly, environment-controlled manufacturing processes, and this has hampered their use in ultrasound,” said Carlos Gerardo, a PhD candidate at UBC.

“By using polymer resin, we were able to produce polyCMUTs in fewer fabrication steps, using a minimum amount of equipment, resulting in significant cost savings,” said Gerardo.

Sonograms produced by the device were as sharp as or even more detailed than traditional sonograms produced by piezoelectric transducers, said Edmond Cretu, a professor at UBC.

“Since our transducer needs just 10 volts to operate, it can be powered by a smartphone, making it suitable for use in remote or low-power locations,” Cretu said.

“And unlike rigid ultrasound probes, our transducer has the potential to be built into a flexible material that can be wrapped around the body for easier scanning and more detailed views—without dramatically increasing costs,” he said.

“You could miniaturise these transducers and use them to look inside your arteries and veins. You could stick them on your chest and do live continuous monitoring of your heart in your daily life. It opens up so many different possibilities,” said Robert Rohling, a professor at UBC. PTI





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