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Will ultrasound come to our homes?

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | April 11, 2013

While this technology, if it comes about, is at least a decade away for professional systems, Carson says it would make for much cleaner images that generate more actionable data. They also could let ultrasound be used in more areas of the body, such as the brain.

"We don't do much brain imaging now (with ultrasound), as the aberration is pretty bad," Carson says. "But it's a fairly easy aberration to correct if you have the right technology."

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Therapeutic uses

But diagnosis is not enough. Carson says that any part of the body that can be imaged by ultrasound can possibly be treated with it, too.

Carson's own team in Michigan has worked on using ultrasound for more effective drug delivery. In this, users direct ultrasound blasts to vaporize inert liquid droplets injected in the body. After vaporizing, an active drug contained within the inert droplet is then exposed, but only in the part of the body affected by the ultrasound. This means doctors can deliver much higher doses of drugs, potentially five times higher, Carson says.

Intriguingly, surgery might also be possible. Another team at Michigan, led by Drs. Charles Cain, Brian Fowlkes and Zhen Xu, has developed a technique they call histotripsy (literally, "tissue crushing"). Unlike HI-FU, another interventional ultrasound process that uses heat to the destroy tissue (in the U.S. it's mainly used for uterine fibroids), this is a mechanical process. With it, ultrasound's energy creates and breaks apart microbubbles, making a sort of virtual scalpel to liquefy flesh with fairly high accuracy.

"They make sharp-edged slices," Carson says.

About three years ago, Cain, Fowlkes, Xu and others spun off the research into a start-up, Histosonics Inc., which so far has raised about $11 million to develop a product to be used on, at first, benign prostate growths.

Still, for all its bright future, if ultrasound is coming home, it's still many years away — it will probably be about two decades before the technology is ready, Carson says.

"Making medicine more efficient is not a bad thing. It didn't hurt medicine much for people to get thermometers (in their homes)," Carson tells DOTmed News. "We ought to be doing that with ultrasound."

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