Portable ultrasound scanner ‘could save lives on battlefield’

The portable ultrasound will produce a 3D image from 2,000 images. Picture: Kate Chandler
The portable ultrasound will produce a 3D image from 2,000 images. Picture: Kate Chandler
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A portable ultrasound scanner could save lives soldiers’ lives by better detecting “closed” head injuries such as bleeding on the brain.

Experts at the University of Aberdeen are working on the technology with the Ministry of Defence’s Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). It would create a 3D model of the brain of a subject out on location which can then be sent to an expert for quick diagnosis.

The aim of the project is to better diagnose head injuries among soldiers caused by explosions or knocks, but it could also be used in everyday medical care.

With the technology an ultrasound image is captured using a movement sensor attached to an ultrasound probe which scans the brain from certain points on the skull where the bone is thinnest.

The software is designed to guide a medic with only basic training in ultrasound to produce as detailed a scan of the brain as possible.

The university said the probe captures up to 40 images per second and the resulting 3D image is built up from around 2,000 individual photos.

Once completed, the software file containing the brain scan can be sent to an expert for analysis and advice then be fed back to the medical staff on the ground.

Researchers working on the project said soldiers with unseen head injuries can be overlooked in battlefield scenarios, leading to health problems in later life.

Neal Smith, DSTL capability adviser, said: “UK Armed Forces operate in many remote locations and where personnel are injured we need to ensure that all conditions can be rapidly and correctly diagnosed to provide the best possible treatment and care.

“Devices which are lightweight, easy to deploy and easy to use, such as the portable ultrasound scanning support system being developed by the University of Aberdeen, have the potential to enhance our capabilities on operations and enhance patient care.”

Dr Leila Eadie, a researcher at the Centre for Rural Health at the University of Aberdeen, said: “There is a clear need for this technology, as outlined by DSTL. Traumatic brain injury is a big problem for the military, especially because it can be difficult to spot in the field and if left untreated, it can have long-term effects.

“Ultrasound is not normally used for imaging the brain, but we hope to prove through further investigations that it is a viable method of making an early diagnosis of head injury whilst in the field.

“Battlefield medics … are likely to have ultrasound equipment already, so it is a case of extending the use of the kit they already have.”