The Flexible Ultrasound System (FUS) is an enabling technology for developing advanced imaging and therapeutic modalities using ultrasound. By combining a state-of-art clinical scanner with a novel research interface the FUS becomes a powerful tool and development platform for expanding the medical usefulness of ultrasound in diagnosing and treating a host of medical conditions both in space and here on Earth. The FUS’s software-based beam forming, software development kit (SDK), communications pipeline, and application-specific peripheral hardware have made possible a variety of exciting technologies for use in space that will pay large dividends here on Earth, too.
Renal stones are a problem that plague millions of people each year. Besides being extremely painful and debilitating, stones can lead to further complications if allowed to grow to large sizes. Using the FUS, researchers have developed a novel diagnostic and therapeutic system for detecting stones while they are small, assessing their size, type, and location, and then determining the best course of action for treatment. The best course might be natural passage, or dislodging and repositioning the stones using the acoustic energy from the ultrasound probe, or a more direct intervention such as breaking the stone (lithotripsy).
Osteoporosis also affects millions of individuals, especially post-menopausal women. Bone loss can be a serious condition, leaving the individual prone to high-risk fractures and associated morbidity. Using FUS technology, we may be able to monitor bone loss in space and here on Earth with a non-invasive method that does not use ionizing radiation such as x-rays. Quantitative ultrasound (QUS) can monitor changes in bone health such as bone density and microarchitecture to help clinicians diagnose and treat bone degradation here on Earth. FUS combines QUS support with high quality clinical imaging to provide a more effective system for assessing overall bone health. Additionally, FUS can support low intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS), a therapeutic use of ultrasound energy to speed healing of fracture and injury sites in the musculoskeletal system.
FUS researchers are also developing a non-invasive method for monitoring intra-cranial pressure (ICP) elevation in astronauts by measuring the geometry and shape of the eyeball. Elevated ICP is a common problem in spaceflight that can lead to visual impairment. It is also a problem that can occur on Earth due to injury, infection, or aneurysm. Detailed 3D ultrasound scans of the eye can reveal and quantify elevated ICP so that the condition may be monitored during the course of treatment.
Because FUS is software-based it can also assist with autonomous operation of clinical ultrasound by minimally trained operators. FUS can provide a number of training tools for astronauts to assist them in acquiring clinical-quality diagnostic scans in the remote environment of deep space. Goggle-based procedural guidance, image catalogs, and probe placement technologies are all ways that FUS can help both crew medical officers or medical technicians on Earth in remote environments skillfully acquire high quality ultrasound images for diagnosing a host of medical conditions. Three objectives may be accomplished with this technology:
1. Develop and implement a group of vascular diagnostic methods related to health conditions on the Exploration Medicine Condition List (Carotid assessments, deep vein thrombosis-DVT, Cardiogenic shock, sudden cardiac arrest secondary to traumatic injury) and vascular access procedural guidance (central venous or arterial cannulation) utilizing the exposed API for the FUS platform.
2. Implement an Augmented Reality (AR) user interface for these vascular methods that provides procedural guidance in acquiring and initially diagnosing sonographic data for one or more ultrasound procedures to enhanced degree of procedural competency.
3. Prototype the integration of Volume Navigation on the FUS platform to allow for 3-dimensional ultrasound procedural guidance through the Head Mounted Display.