Ever since prehistoric times, when Fred Flintstone used a rock camera with a stone-chiseling bird inside to make pictures, innovators have sought ways to lighten up imaging equipment. OK, maybe it only seems like ages. But recently, advances in computerization have upped the stakes considerably, especially in the compact ultrasound market. While CT and MRI got bigger and costlier, ultrasound got smaller, sharper, cheaper and more versatile — its advantage, in short, over the dino-cams.

Curiously, compact ultrasound is something of a form-before-function case study. Market competition rather than clinical need is the true reason it exists in the first place, although uses for it now seem limitless. So maintains Shahram Vaezy, Ph.D., associate director for education at the University of Washington Center for Industrial and Medical Ultrasound (Seattle) and research assistant professor of bioengineering at its Applied Physics Laboratory. “A lot of companies have realized that in order for ultrasound imaging to survive in the medical imaging community, they need to have highly portable, basically handheld, devices. They are really a decision that ultrasound companies have made to compete with MRI and CT.

“At the last AIUM [American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, Laurel, Md.] meeting [in March], one of the main issues was that ultrasound was really relying on providing real-time information [to stay competitive]. Right now, MRI and CT are approaching that, and of course they have features that ultrasound cannot offer, like contrast for organ definition.” However, notes Vaezy, MRI and CT will probably never fit neatly on anyone’s lap. “That’s why a lot of the companies are entering into this market.”

Please refer to the September 2002 issue for the complete story. For information on article reprints, contact Martin St. Denis