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Technology Watch - December 2001
Sonic Flashlight - 18 December, 2001
Dr. George Stetten, a biomedical engineer at the University of Pittsburgh, has developed a handheld scanner that lets doctors look inside patients in 3D. According to the Wired News report, the sonic "flashlight" reveals organs, muscle tissue, and blood vessels at any depth without the use of head-mounted cameras, goggles, monitors, or other devices.
The invention combines images of skin surface with a live ultrasound by placing the scanner and a flat-panel display on opposite sides of a half-silver translucent mirror. When the doctor looks through the mirror at the patient, the doctor sees the patient's skin merged with the image of an ultrasound scan.
The ultrasound image is projected onto the skin in alignment with the patient, producing an ultrasound image that appears to occupy the same space as the imaged part of the body - a type of x-ray vision, if you will. The technology relies on geometric relationships among the ultrasound slice, the monitor displaying the slice, and the mirror - a process called tomographic reflection.
"Doctors currently use ultrasound to guide invasive procedures, such as inserting a needle in a vein. But to do so, they must look away from the patient at an ultrasound display screen. This causes a displaced sense of hand-eye coordination," said Stetten, who conducted his research with the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.
The prototype of the sonic flashlight has been used by doctors, but no clinical trials have been conducted. Stetten is developing more advanced prototypes in both portable and office configurations.
Technology used to sense an impending electrical failure in aircraft is being used to detect epileptic seizures. George Vachtsevanos, a professor at Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has collaborated with neurologists at the University of Pennsylvania and Emory University to find that a series of electrical blips in the brain precedes seizures.
The research indicates that the onset of seizures can be predicted and maybe even halted in patients for whom medications don't work and surgery is not an option. Seizures are produced by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain and can cause convulsions and loss of consciousness. Most of the 50 million epilepsy patients don't know when a seizure will occur.
Vachtsevanos' technique analyzes huge data sets of real-time information to predict when critical electrical systems, like those in aircraft, might begin to fail. Those systems can then be reset, avoiding interruptions. By studying brain waves, Vachtsevanos' team found that bursts of electrical energy could be detected as much as seven hours before a seizure.
Other uses of the technique include predicting and stopping irregular cardiac rhythms before they produce a heart attack. Similar diagnostic technologies developed by the researchers are helping to improve industrial product quality by conducting maintenance only when needed.