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Tiny ultrasound device to stabilise gunshot wounds, fight cancers

21 February, 2013

ISLAMABAD: A tiny, battery operated ultrasound device developed by a Cornell University researcher packs enough punch to stabilise a gunshot wound or deliver drugs to brain cancer patients - and also relieve arthritis.

George K. Lewis, a third-year Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering and a National Science Foundation fellow, has created ultrasound devices that are smaller, more powerful and many times less expensive than today's models.

Ultrasound is commonly used as a nondestructive imaging technique in medical settings. Sound waves, inaudible to humans, can generate images through soft tissue, allowing, for instance, a pregnant woman to view images of her baby.

But the higher-energy ultrasound that Lewis works with can treat conditions like prostate tumours or kidney stones by breaking them up. His devices can also relieve arthritis pressure and even help treat brain cancer by pushing drugs quickly through the brain following surgery.

Lewis miniaturised the ultrasound device by increasing its efficiency. Traditional devices apply 500-volt signals across a transducer to convert the voltage to sound waves, but losing half the energy in the process. In the lab, Lewis has devised a way to transfer 95 percent of the source energy to the transducer.

Lewis suggests that his technology could lead to such innovations as cell phone-size devices that military medics could carry to cauterise bleeding wounds, or dental machines to enable the body to instantly absorb locally injected anesthetic.

Devices today can weigh 14 kg and cost $20,000; his is pocket-sized and built with $100. He envisions a world where therapeutic ultrasound machines are found in every hospital and medical research lab, said a Cornell release.

"New research and applications are going to spin out, now that these systems will be so cheap, affordable and portable in nature," Lewis said.

His new devices are currently being tested in a clinical setting at Weill Cornell Medical College. Under the direction of Jason Spector, director of its lab for bioregenerative medicine and surgery, Peter Henderson, the lab's chief research fellow, is using one of the devices in experiments that aim to minimise injury that occurs when tissues do not receive adequate blood flow.

"People are realising that when harnessed appropriately, you can use ultrasound to treat things as opposed to just diagnose them," Henderson said.

"George's device is going to play a huge role in catalysing the discovery of new and better therapeutic applications."

The development was detailed in the Review of Scientific Instruments, published online, whose paper is co-authored by his adviser, William L. Olbricht, Cornell professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

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