Traditional ultrasound scanners are rather expensive, and rarely do people own one to use at home. However, that may be about to change, as Butterfly IQ has now obtained FDA clearance for a portable ultrasound scanner that anyone can use by connecting to their smartphones.
Connecticut-based Butterfly IQ has made an innovative ultrasound scanner that uses a semiconductor chip for generating the ultrasonic signals, rather than the piezoelectric crystal transducers that traditional ultrasound machines use. The semiconductor chip based transducer is much easier to manufacture than the piezoelectric ones are.
Using the semiconductor chip makes the device much less expensive as compared to existing ultrasonic scanners. The cost of ownership comes down further as the device can operate with a smartphone and other smartphone connected devices such as the Philips Lumify device.
According to Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, founder and chairperson of Butterfly Network, this ultrasound-on-a-chip technology opens up a low-cost window for peering into the human body, allowing anyone to access high quality diagnostic imaging. With more than two-third of the population of the world without access to proper medical imaging, this effort by Butterfly is a great beginning.
FDA has cleared the device for 13 different clinical use cases. These include pediatric, urological, gynecological, cardiac, abdominal, and fetal use cases. The scanner transfers the captured imagery directly to the user’s smartphone via a chord, and the smartphone stores the images into a HIPAA-compliant cloud.
As reported by the MIT Tech Review, the chief medical officer of Butterfly Network, Dr. John Martin, was able to detect cancerous growth in his body while testing the scanner. This is an example of the potential of the low-cost ultrasound scanner.
According to Martin, the easy-to-use, powerful, healthcare providers will be able to afford the whole-body medical imaging system for less than $2,000, and it will fit in their pockets. As the price barrier comes down, Martin expects the Butterfly device to replace the stethoscope ultimately in the daily practice of medicine. The impact this technology will provide as a low-cost diagnostic system, can be gaged from the help it will offer to hundreds of thousands of women who die in childbirth, and the millions of children who die of pneumonia each year.
After perfecting the scanner, Butterfly has plans to augment its hardware capabilities with software for artificial intelligence. This will help clinicians interpret the images that the device picks up. The company expects the products with many new features to be ready for the market by 2018. At present, the device works only with iPhones.
According to the President of Butterfly IQ, Gioel Molinari, ultrasound imaging makes a perfect combination with deep learning. With more physicians using the devices in the field, the neural network models keep improving. As physicians use the Butterfly scanner regularly, they will be able to interpret the results better. This will help improve the acquiring and interpretation of the image by the artificial intelligence, which in turn, will help less skilled users to extract life-saving insight from the images captured by the Butterfly IQ ultrasound scanner on the field.