A look inside: David Zar demonstrates how the ultrasound probe, connected to his own personal smart phone, can be used to image his carotid artery.
The most obvious and immediate use is providing care for people in underserved communities, both in the United States and abroad. Even in some of the poorest nations, cell-phone networks are fairly ubiquitous and could be used to immediately send images taken by the probe to a trained medic for interpretation.
Gari Clifford, a computational physiologist at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, is interested in incorporating the new ultrasound probe into a remote medicine system that he’s developing. By prescreening pregnant women in remote areas for dangerous complications, “we can advise them to go into a more urban and centralized clinic to give birth,” he says. “Many rural clinics in developing countries really don’t have the expertise or technology to do this kind of screening.”
Shadab Mahmud, a program manager at Grameen Healthcare, offers a similar vision. The nonprofit, which is part of the same group of enterprises as the Nobel-winning Grameen Bank, was recently launched to provide sustainable health care in Bangladesh. “In developing countries, about 95 percent of the births occur at home, and that’s where most of the deaths occur as well,” Mahmud says. “The ultrasound probe is an integral part of a kit that each and every community health worker would have.”
A number of groups have already expressed interest in the device. According to Zar, for the same $2,000 that buys the laptop-based probe he helped develop, the manufacturer can build the smart-phone version, and he aims to have open-source software available this summer. (The user must also have a compatible phone; currently, only a few have the necessary capabilities, such as a USB port that can read input and provide power.) Richard is already looking further ahead: his goal now is to create a $199 version that could one day be sold in drugstores for home use.