An ultra-low cost scanner that can be plugged into any computer to show images of an unborn baby has been developed by Newcastle University engineers.
The hand-held USB device – which is roughly the size of a computer mouse – works in a similar way to existing ultrasound scanners, using pulses of high frequency sound to build up a picture of the unborn child on the computer screen.
However, unlike the technology used in most hospitals across the UK costing anywhere from £20,000-£100,000, the scanner created by Jeff Neasham and Research Associate Dave Graham at Newcastle University can be manufactured for as little as £30-40.
Tested by experts in the Regional Medical Physics Department at the Freeman Hospital, part of the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the scanner produces an output power that is 10-100 times lower than conventional hospital ultrasounds.
It is now hoped the device will be used to provide medical teams working in the world’s poorest nations with basic, antenatal information that could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and children.
“Here in the UK we take these routine, but potentially lifesaving, tests for granted,” explains Mr Neasham, a sonar expert based in the University’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.