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article imageHandheld ultrasound scanners developed for rural Africa

By Tim Sandle     Apr 27, 2019 in Health
To aid rural medicine in rural Africa, a new handheld ultrasound device has been developed. The device is portable, resembling a smartphone and could help to revolutionize medical diagnosis in remote areas.
Many items of medical equipment are not designed for taking into rural areas or the use of such equipment is prohibitively expensive. To overcome these challenges researchers around the world are developing, as technology advances, an array of medical equipment that can be manufactured at a lower cost and taken to rural areas in order to offer more advanced medical services. Ultrasound scanning uses high-frequency sound waves to create images (sonograms) of the inside of the body.
The idea of devising a portable ultrasound scanner is an example of this application, and such a device has been developed, called the Butterfly iQ. The hand-held ultrasound scanner resembles an electric shaver, in terms of size and appearance. The portability of the device is supported by it being battery-powered, and it can easily fit into the pocket of a medic's jacket. With the battery power, the Butterfly iQ is designed to last an entire shift or over two continuous hours of scanning. The battery can be re-charged via wireless charging.
The device is also robust, with the strength supported by the core of the design being microchips instead of the more conventional piezoelectric crystals found in ultrasound devices,. This means that the device is less likely to become damaged dropped. The scanner was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October 2017 for 13 clinical applications (which includes obstetric, lung, and cardiac imaging).
Speaking with the New York Times, Jonathan Rothberg, Butterfly’s founder explains the motivation behind designing the device: "Two-thirds of the world’s population gets no imaging at all. When you put something on a chip, the price goes down and you democratize it."
The new scanner is designed by Butterfly Network, a U.S. based company. The scanner retails for around $2,000 per device. Supported for the development of the scanner was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As an emergent technology startup, Butterfly was a 2015 National Medal of Technology and Innovation award winner.
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