Ultrasound technology has been used for decades as a powerful medical diagnostic tool. Exactly how powerful is unfolding as new research and applied technologies expand the uses for ultrasound in the medical and non-medical fields. With each new imaging technique developed, the importance of sonographers grows. It is wise for anyone pursuing a career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography to stay abreast of the research and technology to enhance employment opportunities and make good career choices.
Preventing Cardiovascular Disease with Ultrasound
One of the most prolific research areas is cardiovascular disease. The newest research and techniques are focused on early and more accurate diagnosis, and better treatments for common heart-related medical conditions. There are two recent examples of this type of research in progress.
In the first example, Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology developed a new technology to analyze blood vessel stiffness. Measuring vessel stiffness would be a more direct measurement than the current technique of measuring artery mobility. The old technique relied on ultrasonic grayscale images, while the new one uses a combination of technologies – ultrasound and elastography. The new non-invasive procedure can measure blood vessel stiffness and analyze the type of artery plaque or calcification.
Researcher Elira Maksuti says there are several advantages the new technique offers. First, it offers a more effective method for diagnosing hardening of the arteries. Second, ultrasound is less expensive than computed tomography or magnetic resource imaging (MRI Technologist VS Sonographer). Third, the technique could help guide doctors in making the decision as to whether surgery is necessary. Initial testing was done on artificial blood vessels, and next it will be tested on pig blood vessels.
Another research project was published in “Global Heart” magazine. Dr. Ram Bedi with the Department of Bio-engineering at the University of Washington and Professor Jagat Narula with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Editor-in-Chief of “Global Heart” were the study authors. The study was conducted in the U.S., Canada and India and involved the use of portable ultrasound for detecting plaques in peripheral arteries before there are symptoms. Developing this ability could lower the rate of strokes and heart attacks.
The Ultrasound Technician Center has frequently posted articles concerning the advancement of ultrasound technology, including portable ultrasound devices for point-of-care procedures. The researchers conducting the plaque study anticipate a day when routine examinations with portable, high functionality ultrasound are possible. If so, it would be a big step forward in preventing heart attacks and strokes with pre-symptom treatments for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Equipment Continues to Advance
Ultrasound is being used in many ways, including as medical technology, as sonar and for materials testing. Equipment is specifically developed for each type of use based on customer specifications. One of the reasons is that each application – medical, sonar, materials testing – requires a different frequency range for the ultrasound waves. When equipment is custom built for applications, it is more expensive.
Steffen Tretbar and his team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT in St. Ingbert are taking a new approach. They have developed multi-channel ultrasound equipment that has basic components that are the same for all applications, but application specific components are then added to the basic setup. The add-on will produce a final piece of equipment that is suitable for its intended purpose – low-frequency for sonar, high resolution for medical ultrasound and very high frequencies for materials testing. The research team also developed the appropriate software for interface with PCs.
Also impressive is the development of acoustic tweezers, which is a microfluidic device relying on ultrasound waves to position tiny protein crystals in the path of a beam produced by crystallography X-Ray. This type of X-Ray is used in biology, medicine and chemistry, but the manipulation and mounting of the required crystals in the beam has been difficult due to their size. Until now it has been mostly accomplished by hand while using a microscope, an inefficient process.
The development of the acoustic tweezers was triggered by collaboration between Tony Jun Huang, Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics at Penn State University and Jarrod French, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University. The acoustic tweezers will allow the handling of nano sized and fragile crystals and will greatly reduce the amount of crystals needed due to more accurate crystal placement.
New Wave of Ultrasound Technology
As researchers continue to do research on the use of ultrasound waves for multiple purposes, it is clear that sonographers will play a growing role in a variety of medical procedures. This includes using ultrasound for diagnostic, therapeutic and interventional medicine (more here). Wise sonography students and practicing professionals will stay current on the research and developing technologies.
Within a couple of years, much of what is being developed now will be commonly used in the field. That means today’s students could very well be asked to use equipment or assist with procedures that were not fully developed while in a Diagnostic Medical Sonography program. The students who can demonstrate high-level knowledge are more likely to move to the top of job candidate lists.