No More Guessing: MIT’s Ultrasound Patch Reveals How Full Your Bladder Is

by Hiroshi Tanaka
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Ultrasound Innovation

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Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a wearable ultrasound patch capable of non-invasively imaging internal organs, with a primary focus on monitoring bladder health. This innovative device eliminates the need for an ultrasound operator or the application of gel, potentially revolutionizing the way various organ functions are monitored and diseases are detected.

The wearable device, designed initially for monitoring bladder and kidney health, could be adapted to facilitate earlier diagnosis of deep-seated cancers within the body.

MIT scientists have designed a wearable ultrasound monitor in the form of a patch that can capture images of internal organs without the necessity of an ultrasound operator or the use of gel.

In a recent study, the researchers demonstrated that their patch can accurately image the bladder and assess its fullness. This development holds promise for aiding patients with bladder or kidney disorders in tracking the proper functioning of these organs.

Furthermore, this approach has the potential to extend its utility to monitor other internal organs by adjusting the position of the ultrasound array and tuning the signal frequency. Such adaptable devices may contribute to the earlier detection of deep-seated cancers, such as ovarian cancer.

According to Canan Dagdeviren, an associate professor in MIT’s Media Lab and the senior author of the study, “This technology is versatile and can be used not only on the bladder but any deep tissue of the body. It’s a novel platform that can do identification and characterization of many of the diseases that we carry in our body.”

Lead authors of the study include Lin Zhang, an MIT research scientist; Colin Marcus, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science; and Dabin Lin, a professor at Xi’an Technological University. Their work was recently published in Nature Electronics.

Wearable Monitoring

Dagdeviren’s lab, specializing in designing flexible, wearable electronic devices, had previously developed an ultrasound monitor that could be integrated into a bra for breast cancer screening. In this new study, they employed a similar approach to create a wearable patch that adheres to the skin and captures ultrasound images of internal organs.

The researchers initially chose to focus on the bladder, partly inspired by Dagdeviren’s brother, who had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. Following kidney surgery, he experienced difficulty fully emptying his bladder. This led Dagdeviren to contemplate whether an ultrasound monitor that assesses bladder fullness could assist patients with similar conditions or those suffering from various bladder or kidney issues.

Presently, the sole method for measuring bladder volume involves using a conventional, bulky ultrasound probe, necessitating a visit to a medical facility. The MIT team aimed to develop a wearable alternative for use at home.

To accomplish this, they created a flexible patch composed of silicone rubber, featuring five ultrasound arrays made from a new piezoelectric material developed specifically for this device. These arrays are strategically positioned in the shape of a cross, allowing the patch to image the entire bladder, which is approximately 12 by 8 centimeters when full.

The naturally adhesive nature of the polymer comprising the patch ensures gentle attachment to the skin, facilitating ease of application and removal. To secure it in place, underwear or leggings can be worn over the patch.

Clinical Study and Results

In collaboration with experts from the Center for Ultrasound Research and Translation and the Department of Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, the researchers conducted a study to validate the effectiveness of the new patch. The results indicated that the patch could produce images of comparable quality to those obtained with a conventional ultrasound probe and could be used to monitor changes in bladder volume.

For this study, 20 patients with varying body mass indexes were recruited. They were initially imaged with a full bladder, followed by images with a partially empty bladder and a completely empty bladder. The images generated by the new patch exhibited quality similar to traditional ultrasound scans, and the ultrasound arrays effectively worked on subjects with different body mass indexes.

Notably, this patch eliminates the need for ultrasound gel and the application of pressure, a requirement when using a regular ultrasound probe, owing to its extensive field of view that encompasses the entire bladder.

Future Developments and Objectives

To view the images obtained, the researchers currently connect their ultrasound arrays to a standard ultrasound machine used in medical imaging centers. However, the MIT team is actively developing a portable device, approximately the size of a smartphone, for convenient image viewing.

Anthony E. Samir, director of the MGH Center for Ultrasound Research and Translation and Associate Chair of Imaging Sciences at MGH Radiology, emphasizes the potential clinical translation of conformable ultrasonic biosensors, stating, “Our group hopes to build on this and develop a suite of devices that will ultimately bridge the information gap between clinicians and patients.”

Additionally, MIT researchers aspire to create ultrasound devices suitable for imaging other internal organs like the pancreas, liver, or ovaries. Depending on the location and depth of each organ, adjustments to the ultrasound signal frequency are necessary, necessitating the design of new piezoelectric materials. For some deep-seated organs, an implantable device may be more effective than a wearable patch.

Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering and an author of the paper, envisions that this work could become a central focus in ultrasound research, sparking new approaches to future medical device designs and fostering collaborations between materials scientists, electrical engineers, and biomedical researchers.

Reference: “A conformable phased-array ultrasound patch for bladder volume monitoring” by Lin Zhang, Colin Marcus, Dabin Lin, David Mejorado, Scott Joseph Schoen Jr, Theodore T. Pierce, Viksit Kumar, Sara V. Fernandez, David Hunt, Qian Li, Ikra Iftekhar Shuvo, David Sadat, Wenya Du, Hannah Edenbaum, Li Jin, Weiguo Liu, Yonina C. Eldar, Fei Li, Anantha P. Chandrakasan, Anthony E. Samir, and Canan Dagdeviren, published on November 16, 2023, in Nature Electronics.
DOI: 10.1038/s41928-023-01068-x

This research received funding from various sources, including a National Science Foundation CAREER award, a 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award, the Sagol Weizmann-MIT Bridge Program, Texas Instruments Inc., the MIT Media Lab Consortium, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and an ARRS Scholar Award.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Ultrasound Innovation

What is the purpose of MIT’s ultrasound patch?

MIT’s ultrasound patch serves the purpose of providing non-invasive imaging of internal organs, with its initial focus on monitoring bladder health.

How does this ultrasound patch work?

The patch uses flexible silicone rubber embedded with ultrasound arrays to capture images of internal organs, eliminating the need for an ultrasound operator or gel.

What can this patch be used for?

Initially designed to monitor bladder and kidney health, this wearable device can potentially be adapted to monitor other organs in the body, aiding in the earlier detection of diseases like cancer.

What are the advantages of this ultrasound patch?

The patch is easy to use, eliminates the need for ultrasound gel, and offers a wide field of view for comprehensive organ imaging.

How accurate are the ultrasound images produced by this patch?

In clinical studies, the patch produced images of comparable quality to traditional ultrasound probes, making it a reliable tool for monitoring organ health.

What are MIT’s future goals for this technology?

MIT aims to develop a portable device for image viewing and create ultrasound devices for imaging other deep-seated organs, such as the pancreas, liver, and ovaries.

Who funded the research for this ultrasound patch?

The research received funding from various sources, including the National Science Foundation, 3M, Texas Instruments, and more.

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