Star Trek device comes to the emergency room

Researchers are experimenting with a device right out of Star Trek: a Tricorder-like tool that uses high-intensity focused ultrasound rays. On Star Trek Tricorders had multiple functions but the medical version used by Bones McCoy could scan a body and help diagnose and heal injured or sick patients.

In this case, Engineers at the University of Washington are testing a device that uses multiple lenses to focus high-intensity ultrasound beams at a particular spot inside the body on the patient's lungs. Focusing the ultrasound beams, in a process similar to focusing sunlight with a magnifying glass, creates a tiny but extremely hot spot about the size and shape of a grain of rice. The rays heat the blood cells until they form a seal. Meanwhile the tissue between the device and the spot being treated does not get hot, as it would with a laser beam, researchers said in a statement.

High-intensity focused ultrasound promises "bloodless surgery" with no scalpels or sutures. Doctors would pass a sensor over the patient and use invisible rays to heal the wound. The findings from tests with the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle suggest that ultrasound might replace what is now a painful, invasive procedure. Lung injuries are relatively common because the chest is a big surface that's often exposed to crushing or puncture wounds.Recent tests on pigs' lungs showed that high-intensity ultrasound sealed the leaks in one or two minutes. More than 95% of the 70 incisions were stable after two minutes of treatment, according to results published this summer in the Journal of Trauma.

The University of Washington's Center for Industrial and Medical Ultrasound have been developing ultrasound for surgery for more than a decade, concentrating on frequencies in the 1000 to 10,000 hertz (cycles per second). The device producing the ultrasound rays, about the size of a golf ball, is inserted into a handle that doctors use to scan the outside of the body. Previous experiments used the tool to seal blood vessels and stop bleeding in the spleen, researchers said in a statement.

There have been other Tricorder-like devices. Earlier this year Purdue University researchers said they created a handheld sensing system its creators said could be used for testing foods for dangerous bacterial contaminants including salmonella, which was recently found in a popular brand of peanut butter.

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