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First medical laser ultrasound images of people produced

The technology, which will act as an alternative to conventional ultrasound, deploys an eye- and skin-safe laser system which can be used to remotely image the inside of a person, producing images for medical analysis. This is different to conventional ultrasound which requires contact with a person’s body so that soundwaves can oscillate and an image be produced.

The key point of the technology is to produce ultrasound images from distance. Applications of the new technology include remote image and telehealth assessment of infants, burn victims, as well as accident survivors who are trapped in hard-to-reach places. This demonstrates a success in an emerging field referred to as photoacoustics combined with laser technology.

To achieve an image, the new process uses two lasers. As a laser (operating at 1,550-nanometers) is trained on a patient’s skin, the laser can remotely generate sound waves. These waves move through the body in a type of bouncing motion. A second laser then functions to remotely detects reflected waves. Software can translate these waves into an image. The image produced is equivalent to conventional ultrasound.

The image is formed through the effect of skin surface motion, which is generated by the reflected sound waves. This motion triggers a change in the laser’s frequency. It is the change in frequency that can be measured, and from this the image is formed.

To test out the technology a series of trials with human subjects were run. Medical technologists scanned the forearms of people and used the images to examine for common tissue features like muscle, fat, and bone. The laser scanning was able to create images down to 6 centimeters below the skin.

These remote lasers enabled the scanning to take place at a distance of half a meter away from the human subject.

The research has been published in the journal Light: Science & Applications, where the research paper is titled “Full noncontact laser ultrasound: first human data.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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