Echo sticker shows organs – New Scientist

You will soon no longer need a large device for a medical ultrasound. A newly developed sticker the size of a postage stamp is all that is needed to visualize the heart, lungs or other organs.

For example, a pregnancy ultrasound starts with a thick, cold blob of gel on the pregnant belly. The doctor or sonographer then puts a kind of rod on it, it probe, which sends inaudible sound waves into the body. These waves bounce off the soft tissue and fluids inside. The rod captures the reflected sound waves and sends them to a computer that converts the information into a grainy black-and-white image of the fetus, from which the specialist can read how the pregnancy is progressing.

Long lasting echo

Ultrasound is a common and safe way to see the inside of a body. While it works well, the device required is large and unwieldy. Handling the probe and interpreting the grainy black-and-white images is also specialist work.

Galactic ghosts

Operation is usually done by hand. If you want to study an organ for a long time, you need some kind of robotic arm that holds the probe in the right place. With such a long ultrasound, new gel must also be regularly applied when the old one has dried. The gel is necessary because ultrasound does not work with the slightest bit of air between the probe and the skin.

ultrasound label

Researchers at the MIT University of Technology in the US hope to simplify ultrasound by drastically reducing the size of the equipment. In a publication in the journal Science, they present the design of an ultrasound sticker that measures two by two centimeters, the size of a postage stamp.

The adhesive layer of the sticker consists of two layers that can be stretched elastomer, with a hydrogel in between. The lower elastomer adheres to the skin, and the upper contains the device that emits and receives the sound waves. The whole thing is about three millimeters thick. The hydrogel consists largely of water and therefore allows sound waves to pass through well. The elastomers prevent the gel from drying out.

48 hours

The researchers tested the stickers using healthy subjects who, for example, wore the device on their neck or on their chest, stomach or arm. While wearing it, the subjects performed various activities, such as jogging and weight lifting. The stickers stuck well to the skin. They provided clear 2D images for 48 hours that showed changes in blood vessels, heart and even muscles during exercise.

The tested version of the sticker is still attached by wires to the equipment that converts the reflected sound waves into images. In this form, the device already has a useful application. For example, like the ECG tags that patients are now wearing for heart monitoring, they can be used for continuous monitoring of organs or for measuring cerebral blood flow during anesthesia.


But the goal for the researchers is to make the system wireless so that the patient does not have to go to the clinic. They also want to develop software based on artificial intelligence to better interpret the images that the sticker sends. Then you could also read the ultrasound that the sticker makes at home, to follow the development of a fetus. The stickers could also discreetly measure the bladder contents of people with urinary tract problems.

However, significant improvements are still needed before the sticker can create clear and practical 3D images. “We imagine a box with different stickers, each designed to depict a different part of the body,” said MIT researcher Xuanhe Zhao. “We believe this represents a breakthrough in wearable devices and medical imaging.”

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