The ultrasound image is produced based on the reflection of the waves off of the body structures. Traditional ultrasound is harmless as it doesn’t expose patients to radiation such as CT scanners or X-rays do. The downside of using traditional ultrasounds is that the probe comes in contact with the skin. This proves to be an inconvenient method for some patients, such as babies, burn victims, and people with sensitive skin.
Thanks to MIT, engineers created an ultrasound scanner that doesn’t require contact with the body. The new ultrasound scanner is based on an eye- and skin-safe laser system technique. The new system is using two lasers, one that generates sound waves while the other detects the reflected waves, which then produce an image similar to traditional ultrasound.
According to a paper published by Nature in the journal Light: Science and Applications, researchers have trailed the scanner using few volunteers from half a meter away and were able to observe tissue features such as fat, muscle, and bone, about six 6 centimeters below the skin.
“We’re at the beginning of what we could do with laser ultrasound. Imagine we get to a point where we can do everything ultrasound can do now but at a distance. This gives you a whole new way of seeing organs inside the body and determining properties of deep tissue, without making contact with the patient,” said Brian W. Anthony, principal research scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), a senior author on the paper.
New Ultrasound Laser Technologies Created By Scientists
In recent years, researchers explored photoacoustics, which uses lasers to probe internal structures remotely. Photoacoustics technique sends light instead of sending sound waves into the body. However, this technique still needs a detector in direct contact with the human body.
Researchers have used photoacoustics to image blood vessels just beneath the skin, but not much more in-depth. Sound waves travel further into the body than light. Therefore researchers’ goal is to convert a laser beam’s light into sound waves at the surface of the skin to image deeper in the body.
“It’s like we’re constantly yelling into the Grand Canyon while walking along the wall and listening to different locations,” Anthony says. “That then gives you enough data to figure out the geometry of all the things inside that the waves bounced against — and the yelling is done with a flashlight.”
The researchers plan to improve their technique and system’s performance hoping that one day the ultrasound laser will be a portable device. “I can imagine a scenario where you’re able to do this in the home,” Anthony says. “When I get up in the morning, I can get an image of my thyroid or arteries and can have in-home physiological imaging inside of my body. You could imagine deploying this in the ambient environment to get an understanding of your internal state.”