|Entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg--Courtesy of Butterfly Network|
Entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg's startup company Butterfly Network is working on a new imaging device the size of an iPhone that a healthcare professional will be able to hold up to a patient's chest and see real-time, 3-D images of the heart beating.
According to MIT Technology Review, Rothberg says the device, which is still under wraps other than concept drawings filed with the U.S. Patent Office, will be small, cost only a few hundred dollars, have the ability to connect to a smartphone and be capable of diagnosing breast cancer or show images of a fetus.
"The details will come out when we are on stage selling it," Rothberg told the publication. "That's in the next 18 months."
What Butterfly Network has been busy doing is etching ultrasound emitters directly onto a semiconductor wafer alongside circuits and processors. Such devices are known as capacitive micro-machined ultrasound transducers (CMUTs). So far, backers like Rothberg, Stanford University and Aeris Capital of Germany have sunk $100 million into the venture.
Currently, most ultrasound machines employ small piezoelectric crystals or ceramics to send and receive sound waves, which have to be carefully wired together then hooked up using cables to a separate box that can process the signals. Butterfly Network is betting it can integrate all of the elements directly onto a computer chip that could be manufactured inexpensively and in large numbers. In turn, those types of chips could be used to produce high-quality 3-D images.
"The ultrasound [industry] is basically back in the 1970s," said Greg Charvat, who joined the team at Butterfly and is known for developing radar that can detect human bodies behind stone walls. "GE and Siemens are building on old concepts. We can image faster, with a wider field of view, and go from millimeter to micrometer resolution."
Rothberg's immediate goal with the device is to make it affordable enough to be used even in the poorest regions of the globe. Ultimately, he said, by using an accumulated bank of images the device will be able to help clinicians make preliminary diagnostic conclusions based on pattern-finding software.
"When I have thousands of these images, I think it will become better than a human in saying 'Does this kid have Down syndrome, or a cleft lip?''' he said. "And when people are pressed for time it will be superhuman."
- read the MIT Technology Review article