Two weeks ago, GE unveiled its new Vscan, a pocket-sized, next generation ultrasound. As with its sister ultrasound, the tablet-sized Venue 40, the advanced technologies used to miniaturize what had formerly been a bulky apparatus is helping to revolutionize the medical field. But as Scott Smith, a physicist in the Imaging Technologies Lab at GE Global Research says: “No matter how big the console is, all the diagnostic information is coming from the transducer in the probe.” That transducer, essentially the wand that is placed onto the body to convert electric signals into ultrasound waves, has to be “painstakingly assembled by hand and then carefully cut into segments only slightly wider than a human hair,” Scott says. “These probes have not changed nearly as much as the consoles, and they haven’t gotten cheap.” Today, GE Global Research announced that the work by Scott and his colleagues to overcome the transducer hurdle has resulted in the National Institutes of Health awarding GE $1.2 million to further push the mobile ultrasound technology — with the goal to expand access to prenatal care communities with limited healthcare services. In the video below, Scott explains the research:
As Scott writes in his GE Global Research blog, “I’ve spent a lot of time squinting through a microscope working on these devices, and wanted to find a better way…. Coupling cheaper probes with miniature consoles, will lead to ultrasound equipment being more available not only for maternal health, but also in rural clinics, emergency vehicles, and individual doctor’s offices.”
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1,400 women die each day from maternal causes and for every woman who dies, twenty more suffer injuries, infection, and disability in pregnancy and childbirth. Ultrasound imaging can identify the mothers at risk — such as when the placenta extends over the birth canal; when the baby is in a breech position; or when there are multiple babies.
GE will use the two-year NIH award to further develop a new manufacturing process for the transducer that GE’s researchers believe can potentially reduce labor and production costs. GE is also developing new technology that will make ultrasound easier to master, use, and interpret, as access to medical specialists can be difficult in underserved areas. For example, pregnant women in these communities are more likely to receive their first point-of-care from medical personnel who may not have specific obstetrical ultrasound training. By automating ultrasound systems, GE hopes to expand the number of healthcare personnel who could be trained to operate these systems.
Besides developing the technology, GE will work with Maternal and Fetal Medicine physicians at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center (part of Intermountain Healthcare) to evaluate the equipment and education of young doctors in a hospital and a rural clinic.
Learn more about GE Global Research in these GE Reports stories:
* “New miniature ultrasound puts power in docs’ hands”
* “A closer look at GE’s pocket-sized Vscan ultrasound”
* “Vscan pocket-sized, ultra-smart ultrasound unveiled”
* “$1,000 genome project advances to NIH round two”
* “A look in the lab with GE’s bioscience researchers”
* “Vital signs to go wireless with GE’s body sensors”
* “GE’s software helps Shanghai breathe easier”
* “GE unveils holographic disc breakthrough”
* “The GE Genius Series: Breakthroughs from butterflies”
* “The GE Genius Series: Thin is in with OLEDs”
* “The superhydrophobic way to repel ice & bounce water”