New ultrasonic sensor could be a breakthrough for deep tissue monitoring

Ultrasound deep tissue monitoring can be used to monitor a variety of diseases and injuries from liver cirrhosis and fibrosis to tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome. Now, researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed a new wearable ultrasound sensor that can potentially be a non-invasive long-term alternative to current methods of ultrasound monitoring.

The stretchable ultrasonic array developed by the researchers can facilitate 3D imaging of tissues as deep as four centimetres below the surface of the skin. This could provide a non-invasive, longer-term alternative to current methods of ultrasonic tissue monitoring, according to the University of San Diego.

“The mechanism is based on a technique called compression elastography. Compression elastography based on ultrasound has been widely used in research and clinical practice. We re-engineered the conventional rigid and bulky ultrasound probe into a soft wearable format so that we can do compression elastography better,” said Sheng Xu to in an email. Xu a professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and the corresponding author of a paper on the technology published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

According to Hongjie Hu, co-author of the paper, the researchers integrated an array of ultrasound elements into a soft elastomer matrix and used wavy serpentine stretchable electrodes to connect the elements.

This technology could have many important medical applications. For example, in medical research, serial data on pathological tissues could provide important information on the progression of diseases like cancer. This is because cancer normally causes cells to stiffen.

Also, the current treatments for liver and cardiovascular illnesses may affect tissue stiffness. The new flexible ultrasound sensor could help clinicians assess the efficacy and delivery of the medication during such treatments. It could also help in developing new treatments for these illnesses. The new sensor can also be used to monitor muscles, tendons and ligaments in the case of sport injuries.

Apart from these applications, it can also be used for monitoring liver cirrhosis and fibrosis, assessing musculoskeletal disorders and for diagnosing and monitoring myocardial ischemia, a heart disorder.