When sonar technology expert Jeff Neasham and his wife expected a child, they realised how privileged they were to have access to ultrasound technology. Over 250,000 women die annually from complications during pregnancy, but 99% of these deaths could be prevented, according to UN statistics. Access to ultrasound is key in reducing these numbers, but in developing countries, the high cost of these scanners (up to £100,000) limit access.
Neasham’s wife suggested that he used his knowledge in sonar research to develop an affordable ultrasound system, according to a Newcastle University press release. Neasham, an engineer at the university, took the advice and together with Research Associate Dave Graham he developed an ultrasound scanner that can be manufactured for only £30-40. This is significantly lower than the current low-cost scanners, which cost about £5,000, according to Newcastle University.
The hand-held device is about the size of a computer mouse and produces an output power 10-100 times lower than conventional ultrasound devices. It can be plugged into any computer made in the last 10 years (it requires a USB port). A user sweeps a transducer over the skin and the image is formed by computer software. Besides its antenatal applications, it could also be used to diagnose conditions such as gallstones.
The university is seeking to commercialise the technology and is looking for potential partners. A page on the university’s website details the potential business opportunities.Camilla Andersson