A team of engineers at the University of California, San Diego has developed a stretchable ultrasonic array capable of serial, non-invasive, 3D imaging of tissues as deep as 4 cm below the surface of human skin, at a spatial resolution of 0.5 mm. This new method provides a non-invasive, longer-term alternative to current methods, with improved penetration depth.
The research emerges from the lab of Sheng Xu, PhD, a professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and corresponding author of the study.
“We invented a wearable device that can frequently evaluate the stiffness of human tissue,” says Hongjie Hu, a postdoctoral researcher in the Xu group and study coauthor. “In particular, we integrated an array of ultrasound elements into a soft elastomer matrix and used wavy serpentine stretchable electrodes to connect these elements, enabling the device to conform to human skin for serial assessment of tissue stiffness.”
The elastography monitoring system can provide serial, noninvasive, and three-dimensional mapping of mechanical properties for deep tissues. This has several key applications:
- In medical research, serial data on pathological tissues can provide crucial information on the progression of diseases such as cancer, which normally causes cells to stiffen.
- Monitoring muscles, tendons, and ligaments can help diagnose and treat sports injuries.
- Current treatments for liver and cardiovascular illnesses, along with some chemotherapy agents, may affect tissue stiffness. Continuous elastography could help assess the efficacy and delivery of these medications. This might aid in creating novel treatments.
In addition to monitoring cancerous tissues, this technology can also be applied in other scenarios:
- Monitoring of fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver. By using this technology to evaluate the severity of liver fibrosis, medical professionals can accurately track the progression of the disease and determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
- Assessing musculoskeletal disorders such as tendonitis, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome. By monitoring changes in tissue stiffness, this technology can provide valuable insight into the progression of these conditions, allowing doctors to develop individualized treatment plans for their patients.
- Diagnosis and monitoring for myocardial ischemia. By monitoring arterial wall elasticity, doctors can identify early signs of the condition and make timely interventions to prevent further damage.
Wearable ultrasound patches accomplish the detection function of traditional ultrasound and break through the limitations of traditional ultrasound technology, such as one-time testing, testing only within hospitals and the need for staff operation. “This allows patients to continuously monitor their health status anytime, anywhere,” says Hu.
What’s more, this could help reduce misdiagnoses and fatalities, as well as significantly cutting costs by providing a non-invasive and low-cost alternative to traditional diagnostic procedures.
“This new wave of wearable ultrasound technology is driving a transformation in the healthcare monitoring field, improving patient outcomes, reducing healthcare costs and promoting the widespread adoption of point-of-care diagnosis,” adds Yuxiang Ma, a visiting student in the Xu group and study coauthor. “As this technology continues to develop, it is likely that we will see even more significant advances in the field of medical imaging and healthcare monitoring.”