Military takes aim at 3D ultrasound in battlefield

March 6, 2002

Remote diagnostics reduces needed skillA military initiative in the early 1990s spurred the development of hand-carried ultrasound systems, leading directly to products marketed today by such companies as SonoSite and Tetrad. Now

Remote diagnostics reduces needed skill

A military initiative in the early 1990s spurred the development of hand-carried ultrasound systems, leading directly to products marketed today by such companies as SonoSite and Tetrad. Now the defense department is getting ready to take the next step: handheld 3D ultrasound. It's going to be a big step.

Engineers working at the U.S. Army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology and Research Center (TATRC) at Fort Detrick, MD, have come up with a prototype that can collect volumes of data 40 to 80 times faster than current 3D imaging technologies. Unfortunately, the system is about the size of a desktop computer. Work is proceeding to reduce the size, as well as to develop software tools that will support rapid image manipulation and analysis at remote sites.

"The goal of this project is to develop a real-time 3D ultrasound imaging system for use on the battlefield for combat casualty care," said Ron Marchessault, project officer at the TATRC.

The proposed combination 3D ultrasound-teleradiology system would acquire the data and send it to a remote site, where medical staff could instantly reconstruct any and all views of anatomic structures from the volumetric data set.

Medics would simply place a probe on the patient, determining where volumes should be acquired on the basis of real-time 2D images of the area of interest. After correctly positioning the probe, they would acquire a 3D data set in real-time (0.05/sec for each 3D data set). High-speed 3D acquisition (20 volumes/sec) would provide the ability to image dynamic structures, as well as patients who would otherwise require immobilization and gating, Marchessault said.

Once the data are acquired, they would be transmitted via a satellite communications uplink for remote postprocessing and analysis. With access to the volume of raw data, a clinician could either virtually "rescan" the patient by viewing multiple 2D planes through the data set or examine the patient data via computer reconstruction of the 3D anatomy. Savings in time and the reduced skill level needed by the medic could translate into faster and more accurate diagnoses, which could ultimately save lives.

"Clearly, real-time 3D ultrasound imaging will act as a force multiplier on the battlefield," Marchessault said.