Terason to test ultrasound-on-a-chip in space, air flight and desert telemedicine

Burlington 14 February 2001Terason, Division of Teratech Corporation, an innovator in the design and development of diagnostic micro-systems, on invitation by the NASA Medical Informatics and Technology Applications Consortium (MITAC), presented its proprietary ultrasound processing technology to key NASA scientists and invited physicians, last summer. The conference addressed medical needs and challenges related to the exploration of space and human space flight, specifically to help identify state-of-the art technologies which may be of use to NASA as it prepares for space station operations and future missions to Mars and other planets.


Ultrasound technology is considered by NASA as a potential substitute for physician-conducted physical examinations of space travellers. The advanced micro-system technology developed by Terason, has the low-weight and low-power consumption, and high efficiency to qualify as an ideal diagnostic tool for space missions, suitable for space-to-earth telemedicine. The Terason system features a 10-ounce Terason SmartProbe and linkage to off-the-shelf PC formats. Remarkably, through its unique charge-domain processing (CDP) technology, the ultra-portable handheld ultrasound system offers the high quality images of larger conventional systems.

Other imaging modalities, such as Computed Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), are still incompatible with space travel because of equipment size and weight, radiation hazards, and magnetic fields. On the other hand, ultrasound is considered to provide the greatest potential for medical imaging in space. In September, a United States Air Force imaging expert transmitted live ultrasound images from an aircraft in flight to a medical team on the ground. Michael Freckleton, MD, Director of Medical Imaging/Information Projects Office, Department of Engineering, Texas A & M University, performed the test, examining a crew member of an in-flight Air Force C-130.

"The image quality was excellent with no perceptible image degradation despite a noisy, bumpy plane", stated Dr. Freckleton. An unexpected bonus from the exam was a diagnosis of multiple gall stones in the volunteer patient, load master for the C-130. The U.S. Air Force team had experience already with the unique Terason system-on-a-chip technology and wanted to test it in flight. Dr. Freckleton was requested to take the system up into the plane and to perform an ultrasound examination to send back to medical and engineering personnel on the ground. "It was a successful first run for air-to-ground telemedicine, a demonstration of the vast implications for patient accessibility using this new system", stated Kerr Spencer, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Sales at Terason.

The Terason 2000 Handheld Ultrasound System utilised in the Air Force test consisted of a curved-array Terason SmartProbe connected to a notebook PC. "This is the first ultrasound system to make diagnostic imaging an intuitive PC application", Mr. Spencer commented. "Its plug-and-play PC options speed ultrasound exams and allow them to be performed virtually anywhere rapid diagnostic decisions are needed." The Terason system is able to store tens of thousands of digital images on-line and to export images via DICOM-compatible technologies, making it network- and telemedicine-ready.

Dr. Freckleton equally reported scanning patients from a tent in the desert north of Las Vegas, as part of a demonstration for Special Operations personnel and Air Force medical officers. Images were downloaded through an S-video cable, sent up to a KU band satellite and back to a C-130 aircraft equipped with special antennae. When beamed down to a medical team at Nellis Air Force Base hospital, the reports back were excellent. Diagnostic image quality was as good as the best that had been seen with conventional systems. Additional remote testing is planned in co-operation with a Marine unit in the Mediterranean.

For many years, Teratech Corporation has worked with the United States Department of Defence, helping to develop sonar systems and exploring the development of portable imaging systems for the Army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. During these explorations, the Terason team, led by Teratech's President, Dr. Alice Chiang, has invented powerful charge-domain computing circuits that can be implemented in a very small space with great precision and operated at high speed with extremely low power.

When the researchers began to explore possible medical applications of this unique device technology, ultrasound imaging was the logical place to start. Their efforts have resulted in a unique and powerful "system-on-a-chip technology", the basis for the new, ultra-portable ultrasound system in a probe, the Terason 2000. Incorporated in 1993, Terason sought to provide low-cost, low-power, fast product-cycle solutions to imaging and signal-processing challenges. As the first product division of Teratech Corporation, the company is a global provider of high-resolution, miniaturised medical ultrasound imaging systems installed on standard PC architecture.

Leslie Versweyveld

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