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Wearable ultrasound patch could offer real-time heart scans on the go

The technology could help athletes and heart disease patients.

Hu, Huang, Li et. al.

Ultrasound can provide detailed images of your heart, but the bulk makes it impractical for continuous scanning — especially outside of the hospital. It might be far more portable in the future, however. Researchers have developed a wearable ultrasound patch that provides real-time heart imagery, even while you're in motion. It also uses deep learning to automatically calculate ventricle volume and generate performance stats. You'd know your cardiac output at any given moment, for instance.

The device uses piezoelectric (that is, pressure-powered) transducers to perform deep tissue imaging. Stretchable liquid metal electrodes, meanwhile, ensures the ultrasound imager can stay close to your skin while remaining compact. Past attempts at wearable ultrasound arrays have relied on thin metal films that limits the design's complexity.

The technology isn't close to production. Scientists want to continue miniaturizing the system, which still needs to attach to an external processing system through a flexible cable. The team also hopes to improve the spatial resolution through better algorithms, and use a larger AI training dataset that could better reflect the general population.

Some of the advantages are already clear, mind you. The creators believe the wearable ultrasound could provide continuous metrics for patients with heart disease or in critical care, including outpatients. Remote ultrasound scans have been envisioned before, but have frequently relied on wands or other cumbersome gadgets. The tech could also be helpful for athletes hoping to strengthen their hearts and optimize their abilities.

The concept isn't limited to one organ, either. The designers say their wearable ultrasound system could be generalized for use with the spine, liver and veins. In that light, the tech could provide freedom to many patients and athletes who'd otherwise need to visit clinics or hospitals to share data for their conditions.