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Device provides 3D images from inside the heart and blood vessels

20 February 2014

A tiny silicon chip could acquire real time, 3D images from the inside the heart and blood vessels with far greater clarity than existing ultrasound techniques.

The single-chip catheter-based device shown here under test (photo: Rob Felt/Georgia Tech)

Researchers at Georgia Tech in the US have developed the technology for a catheter-based device that would provide forward-looking, real-time, three-dimensional imaging from inside the heart, coronary arteries and peripheral blood vessels.

With its volumetric imaging, the new device could better guide surgeons working in the heart, and potentially allow more of patients’ clogged arteries to be cleared without major surgery.

The device integrates ultrasound transducers with processing electronics on a single 1.4mm silicon chip. On-chip processing of signals allows data from more than a hundred elements on the device to be transmitted using just 13 tiny cables, permitting it to easily travel through circuitous blood vessels. The forward-looking images produced by the device would provide significantly more information than existing cross-sectional ultrasound.

Researchers have developed and tested a prototype able to provide image data at 60 frames per second, and plan next to conduct animal studies that could lead to commercialisation of the device.

The single chip device combines capacitive micromachined ultrasonic transducer (CMUT) arrays with front-end CMOS electronics technology to provide three-dimensional intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) and intracardiac echography (ICE) images.  The dual-ring array includes 56 ultrasound transmitter elements and 48 receiver elements. When assembled, the doughnut-shaped array is just 1.5mm in diameter, with a 430-micron centre hole to accommodate a guide wire.

Power-saving circuitry in the array shuts down sensors when they are not needed, allowing the device to operate with just 20mW of power, reducing the amount of heat generated inside the body. The ultrasound transducers operate at a frequency of 20MHz.

In the longer term, the development team hopes to produce a version of the device that could guide interventions in the heart under magnetic resonance imaging. Other plans include further reducing the size of the device to place it on a 400-micron diameter guide wire.


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