Low-cost ultrasound prototype may help save lives in poor regions

European researchers have developed a low-cost ultrasound scanner they hope will lead to reduced maternal mortality in developing parts of the world.

The paper describing the work, lead-authored by PhD candidate Thomas van den Heuvel of Radboud University in the Netherlands and senior-authored by Jeffrey Neasham of Newcastle University in the U.K., was published online July 17 in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems.

The team compared the image-quality performance of their proof-of-concept monostatic synthetic aperture scanner (MSAS) with a monostatic fixed focus scanner (MFFS) that’s currently on the market.

They performed quantitative image-quality analysis using simulation and phantom experiments, then carried out in vivo experiments to validate the MSAS prototype in obstetric imaging.

The authors report that, at achievable lateral resolution, the simulations showed their MSAS approach “superior at all ranges” compared with the MFFS system.

Further, the phantom experiments verified the improved resolution of the prototype, with a lower signal to noise ratio that mainly owed to the lower acoustic energy it emits.

In addition, the in vivo tests showed “promising results using the MSAS for clinical diagnostics” in prenatal care, the authors write.

“Modern ultrasound scanners typically employ a high element count transducer array with multichannel transmit and receive electronics,” van den Heuvel et al. explain. “To minimize hardware costs, we employ a single piezoelectric element, mechanically swept across the target scene, and a highly cost-engineered single channel acquisition circuit.”

The production costs of their proposed MSAS “could be an order of magnitude lower than any other ultrasound system on the market today,” they conclude, “bringing affordable obstetric imaging a step closer for developing countries.”

For Neasham, a sonar expert, the present study represents a continuation of efforts he’s been at for several years. As described in the study abstract, the present prototype appears to be a modified version of an earlier model that Neasham said could be mass-produced for around $50 per unit.