Ultrafast Ultrasound vs. Standard Ultrasound
Ultrasound scans are a noninvasive method to examine organs, bones, tissue, etc., inside the body. Clinicians use standard ultrasounds to assess the heart, vascular systems, fetuses, musculoskeletal systems, and several other organs. A newer technology– ultrafast ultrasounds– allow doctors to scan much smaller structures, such as tiny blood vessels in the brain, with much greater resolution than MRIs and CT scans.
Ultrafast ultrasounds are still a new technology; however, researchers show that ultrafast ultrasounds can track the movements of cells and produce high-speed, fine-grained images. They can work up to 100 times faster than standard ultrasound scans and may provide much earlier detection of several neurological conditions.
Ultrafast ultrasounds aren’t widespread in medical practices because they require a lot of computing power and fine-tuning. But, this new technology is promising to the medical community. This guide covers all the details about ultrafast ultrasounds, how they differ from standard ultrasounds, and their potential future.
What is an Ultrafast Ultrasound?
An ultrafast ultrasound is a new method of scanning the body’s interior with plane or divergent waves. An ultrafast ultrasound transducer generates these waves by applying a circular or plane delay on its elements. This allows the ultrasound machine to reconstruct a complete image with just one emission.
However, using just a single emission results in lower image contrast and resolution. To improve imaging quality, ultrafast ultrasound machines use coherent combinations of compounded plane-wave transmissions. This means it uses several plane waves transmitted at several angles and combines them via software into one image that yields a high-spatial-resolution image.
This results in high-spatial resolution and a higher frame rate, which means clinicians can see much smaller blood and tissue movement than with traditional ultrasounds.
Ultrafast vs. Standard Ultrasound
You can think of ultrafast ultrasound imaging as a faster and more detailed version of conventional ultrasounds. However, ultrafast ultrasound machines will not replace conventional ultrasound machines. Instead, ultrafast ultrasounds will allow physicians to gain deeper and more detailed insights into a patient’s anatomy that a traditional machine can’t provide.
Meanwhile, physicians, sonographers, etc., will still use conventional ultrasound to assess and diagnose patients. For example, traditional ultrasound offers enough detail and resolution for regular cardiac, OB/GYN, MSK, vascular, urology, breast, venous, abdominal, orthopedic, and several other scans.
Where ultrafast ultrasound devices have the most utility in assessing smaller structures, like tiny blood vessels in the brain– some of which are so small that only a single blood cell can pass through.
Ultrafast ultrasound’s ability to detect and measure microscopic blood flows to examine newborns, guide brain surgeries, and assess cardiac function. Neuroscientists predict ultrafast ultrasounds could also help doctors diagnose several brain diseases much earlier, such as brain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.
Here are some of the key differences between traditional and ultrafast ultrasounds.
|Traditional Ultrasound Machines||Ultrafast Ultrasound Machines|
|Useful in cardiac, OB/GYN, MSK, vascular, urology, breast, venous, abdominal, orthopedic, and several other applications||Useful in assessing small blood vessels in neurological, pediatric, neonatal, cardiac, and OB/GYN applications|
|Uses focused beams that scan line-by-line to create images||Uses plane or divergent waves to aggregate various images into a single image with much higher resolution|
|25 to 50 frames per second frame rate
||2500 to 5000 frame per second frame rate|
|Uses hardware improved through various iterations
||Requires specialized graphical processing unit (GPU)|
|Widespread and used to assess many medical conditions and patients
||Newer technology– still undergoing clinical research and trials|
Because ultrafast imaging uses much higher frame rates, this provides clinicians a method to observe and track transient physiologic events, including:
- Arterial pulse wave propagation
- Cardiac contraction
- Blood flow
- Brain activity
Ultrafast ultrasounds can assist neurosurgeons during several procedures to assess blood flow and what areas of the brain activate when a person thinks about moving a limb. This can help prepare for technologies like robotic limbs.
Traditional ultrasounds don’t have the level of detail, contrast, or framerate to assess the ultra-fine details an ultrafast ultrasound can. Ultrafast ultrasounds can produce 2500 to 5000 frames per second, 1000 times more than conventional ultrasounds.
This is useful for measuring arterial stiffness and other vascular imaging, blood flow in tiny vessels in the brain, and other pediatric and neuro applications.
Cost and Prevalence
Since ultrafast ultrasound procedures are still in the early stages of research and developing medical applications and procedures, ultrasound machines that can perform ultrafast imaging and analyze the data cost much more.
In terms of processing power and ultrafast ultrasounds need much more than conventional ones. For example, Sumner Norman, a Caltech postdoc, stated it “requires around ten terabytes of data to fully image the brain of each lab animal in 3-D.”
As for the medical costs to patients, we can expect them to be much more than conventional ones since it requires specialized equipment, training, and medical staff.
Ultrafast Ultrasounds Moving Forward
Ultrafast ultrasound imaging is a new and evolving technology. Today, researchers are working on applications to monitor the brain, cardiovascular health, and pediatric imaging. However, ultrafast imaging has limitations. It is difficult to use through the skull, making it useful only in procedures where surgeons remove portions of the skull. It loses resolution at large depths, making it challenging to access deeper vessels like the aorta.
Still, researchers are confident that computer and AI advancements could lessen or eliminate the limitations ultrafast ultrasound imaging currently has. Doctors and researchers close to ultrafast imaging developments are confident that the medical community will have access to this new imaging technique soon.
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