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article imageEssential Science: Ultrasonics used to carry data to body tissues

By Tim Sandle     May 30, 2016 in Science
Some medical devices can be controlled wirelessly. This becomes more difficult the deeper the device is embedded. An advancement in ultrasonic signals heralds a new wave of remotely controlled, implanted medical devices.
Experimenting with animal tissue, scientists have shown how real-time data can be transmitted to animal tissue. The purpose is to provide communication signals to medical devices using an ultrasonic carrier wave. Based on the successful trials it appears that instructing a medical device to switch on or off, or to control the rate that a drug is released, are not the only activities possible with ultrasonics.
Ultrasounds are sound waves with frequencies higher than the upper audible limit of human hearing. Ultrasonication is used in many applications, such as homogenizing (reducing particles in liquids to make even solutions); disintegration (applying high shear forces that break particle agglomerates into single dispersed particles); sonochemistry (medical imaging); degassing and cleaning. Of these applications, sonography is probably the best known, where medics use the technique to examine pregnant women. For this, an instrument called a transducer emits high-frequency sound (one inaudible to human ears.) The device records the echoes as the sound waves bounce back to determine the size, shape, and consistency of soft tissues and organs.
Credit: Nadja Reissland --- 
Researchers used ultrasound images of fetuses  faces  like these  to tr...
Credit: Nadja Reissland --- Researchers used ultrasound images of fetuses' faces, like these, to track how they used progressively more complex facial movements.
Live Science
A relative new application of the "science of sound" is ultrasound Identification, where ultrasonics are deployed to track and identify the location of objects in real time via nodes embedded in objects and devices. The removed objects transmit an ultrasound signal back to a sensor.
The latest development, however, is with the activation and deactivation of medical devices. According to the lead researcher behind the project, Professor Andrew Singer from the University of Illinois, live streaming of high-definition video from devices inside the body can also be achieved.
Ultrasound is already widely used to create images of the inside of the body, though a type of diagnostic imaging technique based on the application of ultrasound.
Here internal body structures, such as tendons, muscles, joints, vessels and internal organs, can be visualized. Whilst a fairly rapid technique, the downside is that images are of variable quality,
With this technique, the scientist explains, “a device that is swallowed for the purposes of imaging the digestive tract but with the capability for the HD video to be continuously streamed live” will present a step-forward in diagnostic medical practice. Here a doctor or surgeon could, via a monitor, control the orientation and functionality of a medical device wirelessly.
In trials, Professor Singer’s team proved how signal processing techniques can produce high data rates (of more than 30Mb per second) through tissues at frequencies that can penetrate through the body’s tissues.
The technique, according to Professor Singer, is pioneering: "To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has ever sent such high data rates through animal tissue."
The rates of data transmission are such that real-time streaming of high-definition video is possible, and of good enough for surgeons to make key decisions. The immediate application is with cardiac patients. In the longer term, the technology could be expanded to pacemakers, glucose monitors, cameras to scan the intestinal tract and so on.
The research to date has been published in a white paper on the website arXiv.org. The paper is titled "Mbps Experimental Acoustic Through-Tissue Communications: MEAT-COMMS." ArXiv is the Cornell University arXiv is an e-print service in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance and statistics.
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week we explore a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we looked at the design of flying robots, based on static electricity to adhere to the underside of a leaf and to rest on other materials. The week before science, both biological and chemical, is being deployed to improve craft beer, and we outlined some new innovations.
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