Gates Foundation partnership to bring affordable, durable ultrasound to developing countries

Draper, a not-for-profit research and development company, announced an agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to bring ultrasound imaging systems to developing countries to help address high-risk pregnancies.

The World Health Organization reported high-risk pregnancies accounted for 99 percent of the 303,000 maternal deaths recorded in 2015. However, ultrasound imaging is rarely available in resource-challenged environments.

According to a Draper press release, the partnership will seek to develop a portable, durable and cost-friendly ultrasound system to deploy in areas where trained specialists are rare.

An interdisciplinary team at Draper is working on an ultrasound blanket made of flexible material which could be easily administered over a mother’s abdomen, and would generate three-dimensional volumetric ultrasound images for accurate diagnosis.

“Ultrasound is the primary imaging tool for medical assessment of maternal and fetal health, but in developing countries and other low-resource environments, access to ultrasound is severely limited,” said Sheila Hemami, director of strategic technical opportunities at Draper. “Making ultrasounds more available holds out the promise of improving earlier diagnosis of and intervention in both maternal and fetal conditions that require referrals to higher-level medical facilities.”