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Home Computer Fetal Ultrasound System Developed

Fetal head and face profile image by low-cost ultrasound prototype (Newcastle University)

Fetal head and face profile image by low-cost ultrasound prototype (Newcastle University)

Engineers at Newcastle University in the U.K. created a low-cost ultrasound scanner that can display images of a fetus on a home computer display. The device aims to make the monitoring of fetal development a more routine task, particularly in less developed areas of the world.

The scanner, about the size of a computer mouse, was developed by Newcastle engineering research associates Jeff Neasham and Dave Graham. The device uses sonar signaling technology, similar in concept to that used by submarines and underwater salvage crews. The scanner, pushed manually over the skin, connects to a PC or laptop through a standard USB port and sends sound waves through tissue using a single transducer that converts sound waves to electronic signals.

The device captures returning sonar echoes and directs the signals to the computer’s display, which processes and focuses the image, at a rate of three images per second. The current prototype, say the developers, is set at ultrasound frequencies and scan dimensions matching convex array scanners used for obstetrics and abdominal imaging. Those settings can be adjusted for other applications, say the engineers.

The goal of the device is to provide a way for parents to monitor development of unborn children at home and spot potential problems early on, which can then be followed-up by health care professionals with more powerful ultrasound and other diagnostics. Fetal ultrasound equipment in clinics and hospitals cost from £20,000 to £100,000 ($US 32,000 to 161,000). Neasham and Graham believe the technology can be made for £30 to £40 ($US 48 to 64).

Neasham points out the technology has other uses as well. “There is obviously the potential to use it to go beyond obstetrics,” says Neasham, “by using it to diagnose conditions such as gallstones, or other conditions that readily show up with ultrasound imaging. Even vets and farmers are interested in affordable imaging.”

The project was funded by a grant from the Knowledge Transfer Account of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and a loan from U.K. venture capital firm NorthStar Ventures. Newcastle is seeking collaborators or licensees to develop the technology further.

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Hat Tip: MedCity News

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