We’re all familiar with ultrasound technology–the arrival of sonograms has changed pregnancy forever. But now a development by scientists in the U.K. could bring incredible MRI-like powers to your family doctor.
After a long research stint, the team in the Engineering Science Dept. at Oxford University has recently tested its technology on a substitute biological subject and have demonstrated that their OxEMA system (for Oxford Electromagnetic Acoustic Imaging) has incredible diagnostic skills that put it on a par with more sophisticated, expensive systems like MRI–for a fraction of the cost. In fact, it could cost only about as much as an ultrasound imaging session does–which could bring MRI-like imaging and diagnosis powers to facilities like your local clinic.
The technology incorporates traditional ultrasound systems (which send soundwaves into a body and then detect the reflections to calculate an image of what’s inside) and electromagnetic sensors that sense complex electrical properties inside the subject. Data from the electrical sensors is combined with the sonogram to create a more data-rich map of what’s going on–and where a sonogram may identify a mere bump or mass inside a body, and no particular sense about what that detail in the image is, the combined EM and ultrasound data can tell doctors a lot more.
To test its effectiveness, the OxEMA team used a sheep’s kidney and planted a calcium carbonate nodule inside–simulating certain types of tumor or stone. On an ultrasound image the stone can be seen, but an ultrasound technician wouldn’t know exactly what it’s composed of. With the combined image, the nodule’s differing electrical properties are delineated in high detail, meaning technicians or doctors can possibly figure out the tissue type.
The OxEMA system is non-ionizing, unlike X-rays or CT scans and thus offers less risk to patients, and it could be incorporated into existing medical office ultrasound systems for a low price. In other words, your family doc could, with only a little extra training, offer an on-the-spot diagnosis for a number of medical conditions that otherwise involve a trip to a specialist, expensive imaging, or, in the case of some cancers, crucial time.
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