Could $10 microchip turn standard ultrasound into 3D imaging technique?

Despite what countless click-bait advertisements may promise, “one simple hack” rarely changes your life. But a new imaging technology from Duke University Health System may pack plenty of potential for changing ultrasonic capabilities.

A $10 microchip created by a team of physicians and engineers may allow users to get 3D images from a standard 2D ultrasound machine, according to its developers. The microchip can be mounted on a traditional ultrasound probe and uses software to combine multiple 2D images into a 3D model.

“With 2D technology you see a visual slice of an organ, but without any context, you can make mistakes,” said Joshua Broder, MD, an associate professor of surgery at Duke Health and one of the creators of the technology. “These are problems that can be solved with the added orientation and holistic context of 3D technology. Gaining that ability at an incredibly low cost by taking existing machines and upgrading them seemed like the best solution to us.”

Broder got the idea for the microchip while playing video games with his son in 2014. The Nintendo Wii’s game console precisely tracks the location of its controllers. So, he thought, why not duct tape something like an ultrasound probe?

Broder worked with three engineers to develop prototypes. The technology is currently being tested in clinical trials at Duke and Stanford University.

“With trauma patients in the emergency department, we face a dilemma,” Broder said. “Do we take them to the operating room not knowing the extent of their internal injuries or bleeding, or do we risk transporting them to a CT scanner, where their condition could worsen due to a delay in care? With our new 3-D technique, we hope to demonstrate that we can determine the source of bleeding, measure the rate of bleeding right at the bedside and determine whether an operation is really needed.”

Physicians and engineers demonstrated the device Oct. 31 at the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) Research Forum in Washington, D.C. Broder and his team hope the imaging method may be used when CT or MRI is unavailable or too risky.

Duke Health has uploaded a video about the microchip.