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New NIH-funded Ultrasound Technology is Changing Lives around the World

A handheld ultrasound imaging device, the development of which was largely funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), is helping to dramatically improve patient care all over the world.

V-Scan Ultrasound

With a one-hand user interface, Vscan provides portability along with impressive color Doppler blood flow displays.
Photo: GE Healthcare

From the largest U.S. hospitals to clinics in rural India to medical centers across the nation and around the world, health professionals are turning to the Vscan, a palm-sized ultrasound imaging device. The handheld unit increases access to high-quality medical images.

Vscan uses advanced technology to produce high-quality images of internal organs. It displays real-time movement and color Doppler, which produces color-coded images of blood flow that are overlaid on the black-and-white anatomical images produced by the device. This allows physicians to more quickly identify blood flow problems or heart problems. The small, sophisticated device can be used at the bedside, in an ambulance, or in remote areas that are underserved by medical personnel.

While a patient is being examined, a doctor or other health professional can quickly and non-invasively view inside the body. The ultrasound images can display organ anatomy and functions, as well as check for normal blood flow or blockages, monitor pregnancies, and much more.

Patient receiving V-Scan Ultrasound

At the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, health professionals used handheld Vscans to check the athletes and others.
Photo: GE Healthcare

"This handheld device allows non-invasive imaging at the point of care at a cost that is 20 times lower than that of traditional large mainframe ultrasound machines," says Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D., director of NIBIB, which funded the initial research on which the Vscan is based. "That can be in a large medical center, in a small hospital, in a rural community, or in low-resource settings anywhere around the globe."

Ultrasound scanners were not always portable, or cheap. Dr. Kai Thomenius, Ph.D., Chief Technologist at GE Global Research, led the development of the Vscan technology. He had worked on miniaturizing traditional scanners years ago, taking "a typical ultrasound scanner—which is roughly washing-machine size—and getting it down to desktop size," he says. "We then had some ambitious plans to further miniaturize, which happened to fit perfectly with a major initiative of NIBIB's. So, the timing was perfect to pursue it with them."

General Electric (GE) Healthcare then further refined and brought Vscan to the market. It has now been tested in many places around the world. In 2012, GE Healthcare partnered with the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) on a project to bring free heart echocardiograms to a rural community in northwest India. More than a thousand people suspected of having heart problems were diagnosed with ultrasound imaging using the Vscan. The ultrasound images were then uploaded to the Internet, so that health professionals in India and around the globe could see them. The unit is now being used in more than 100 countries.

The battery for the Vscan has a long charge life, so a health professional can easily image and diagnose many patients with the handheld device before it needs to be recharged. "Since the NIBIB-funded work, we have focused on applying these devices," says Dr. Thomenius. "The new targets are primary care doctors, anesthesiologists, interventionalists, and emergency room doctors. NIBIB support proved to be invaluable to setting the stage for further expansion of medical ultrasound into new areas."

"Since the NIBIB-funded work, we have focused on applying these devices," says Dr. Thomenius. "The new targets are primary care doctors, anesthesiologists, interventionalists, and emergency room doctors. NIBIB support proved to be invaluable to setting the stage for further expansion of medical ultrasound into new areas."

To Find Out More

Winter 2013 Issue: Volume 7 Number 4 Page 26-27