The Future of Ultrasound Technology

Earliest examples of ultrasound technology appear in 1877 with a discovery by Pierre and Paul-Jacque Curie. They used transducers to send, receive, and interpret sound waves. Since then, technology has rapidly progressed so that radiologists in rural parts of third-world countries are detecting fetal heart problems using remote ultrasound tools, preventing the deaths of many babies and their mothers. The future of ultrasound technology is bright and presents a great amount of opportunity for those interested in the field. To learn more, checkout this infographic below created by the Adventist University of Health Sciences’ Online Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography program.

infographic illustrating the future of ultrasound technology

A Short History of Ultrasound

The first ultrasonic scanner was invented in 1949 by a radiologist, and by the 1960s his invention and previous advancements were converging: 2-D echograms, pulsed Doppler, and other techniques.

A live baby was first seen on a 3-D ultrasound in 1986. By the 1990s, 4-D imagery was available in real time to perform accurate and precise biopsies. While there were other uses for ultrasound such as detecting valuable items on the bottom of the ocean, technicians were particularly interested in the use of ultrasound and sonography in the medical field.

Medical Uses for Ultrasound and Sonography

X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs were standard diagnostic tools before the advent of ultrasound. Although these others are still the best tools in some instances, ultrasound has often proven to be cheaper and safer depending on the situation. Besides reducing exposure to radiation, ultrasound machines are mobile and relatively inexpensive. They can be taken to patients in the operating theater, the recovery room, or their hospital beds. Radiologists, surgeons, and other experts use ultrasound to guide needle placement, for echocardiograms, to perform bone sonometry, and for abdominal imaging. Anesthesiologists doubled their use of ultrasound between 2010 and 2013.

Body, Heal Thyself

Focused Ultrasound or FUS facilitates cancer treatment and immunotherapy at a high or low intensity. This is a non-invasive method of catalyzing cancer cells to create antigens. As a result, a body’s natural immune system triggers a disease-fighting response, an alternative to subjecting a patient to radiation when surgery is inadequate or dangerous. FUS has been used to treat several types of cancer including kidney, bladder, and pancreatic forms.

Computer Enhancement Tool (OPE)

Subjects of NASA pre-flight training are subjected to non-medical ultrasound to determine their body’s performance following a session with the use of OPE. Training takes just three hours, after which voice commands fed over the internet enable communication of data. The same technology has been applied to sports medicine over a laptop or satellite phone and, in some cases, using solar power.

Latest Science

There is hope for ultrasound as a breast cancer detection tool in place of X-rays to create a 3-D image of breast tissue and depict lumps on the screen. Meanwhile, Audible Handheld Doppler Ultrasound has been tested on 200 people to diagnose arterial blockage in the lower legs. Many of these patients are diabetic. A technique called GE “CSOUND” provides 4-D imaging to detect blood clots in a patient about to undergo heart surgery.

Reaching the Rural Third World

Ultrasound technology has already proven to be cheaper and more mobile than other forms of imaging such as X-ray and MRI. This makes it the ideal diagnostic tool for places like rural Morocco or Togo. In Morocco, for instance, mobile ultrasound has cut wait times for diagnosis by over 1,000% and is only 2.5% as expensive. Reducing costs and wait times has saved many lives. While 800 pregnant Moroccan women die daily from complications their doctors were unable to detect, physicians can now see and remedy these conditions, many of which are easy to correct when caught in time.

In Togo, the use of Telesonography has been a crucial step forward for the 10 radiologists serving a population of 6 million people. They can examine patients using video cameras on mobile phones, producing images as clear as videos taken on cell phones. This has enabled radiologists to capture images immediately following trauma caused during a gun battle or following a car accident. Furthermore, the accuracy of telesonographic images sent from mobile phones used for prenatal echocardiography has proven to be 92% accurate.

The Future

Advancements in ultrasound technology have been impressive indeed and are making inroads into the poorest parts of the world. They have saved many lives in a variety of ways but have also proven useful in other ways. As mobile communication advances, so do the dreams of scientists, medicos, and inventors. There are roughly 90,000 accredited diagnostic medical sonographers in the United States at present. While the U.S. market for ultrasound equipment represented $1Billion dollars in 2015, this is estimated to double by 2020 with an estimated growth in related employment of 40% between 2012 and 2020. Ultrasound technology has proven its worth and the possibilities continue to excite.

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