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Soon, ‘twinkling’ ultrasound technology to help treat kidney stones

Washington, Feb 1 (ANI): A new ultrasound technology could soon help in overcoming a number of medical care challenges associated with kidney stone treatment, researchers say.

The new technology by scientists with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) detects stones with advanced ultrasound imaging based on a process called “Twinkling Artifact” and provides treatment by “pushing” the stone with focused ultrasound.

This technology could not only be beneficial for health care in space, but could also alter the treatment of kidney stones on Earth.

“We have a diagnostic ultrasound machine that has enhanced capability to image kidney stones in the body,” said Dr. Michael Bailey, a principal engineer at APL-UW.

“We also have a capability that uses ultrasound waves coming right through the skin to push small stones or pieces of stones toward the exit of the kidney, so they will naturally pass, avoiding surgery.”

Currently on Earth, the preferred removal method is for patients to drink water to encourage the stones to pass naturally, but this does not always work, and surgery is often the only option.

In space, the threat from kidney stones is greater due to the difficulty of keeping astronauts fully hydrated. Another factor is that bones demineralise in the reduced-gravity environment of space, dumping salts into the blood and eventually into the urine.

The elevated concentration of salts in the urine is a risk factor for stones.

Crum, who is a principal physicist at APL-UW, said kidney stones could be a serious problem on a long-duration mission.

“We want to prepare for this risk by having a readily available treatment, such as pushing the stone via ultrasound,” Crum said.

Before a stone can be pushed, it needs to be located. Standard ultrasound machines have a black and white imaging mode called B-mode that creates a picture of the anatomy.

They also have a Doppler mode that specifically displays blood flow and the motion of the blood within tissue in colour.

In Doppler mode a kidney stone can appear brightly coloured and twinkling. The reason for this is unknown, but Crum and Bailey are working to understand what causes the Twinkling Artifact image.

“At the same time, we have gone beyond Twinkling Artifact and utilized what we know with some other knowledge about kidney stones to create specific modes for kidney stones,” Bailey said.

“We present the stone in a way that looks like it is twinkling in an image in which the anatomy is black and white, with one brightly colored stone or multiple coloured stones.”

Once the stones are located, the ultrasound machine operator can select a stone to target, and then, with a simple push of a button, send a focused ultrasound wave, about half a millimetre in width, to move the stone toward the kidney’s exit.

The stone moves about one centimetre per second. In addition to being an option to surgery, the technology can be used to “clean up” after surgery.

The ultrasound technology being developed for NSBRI by Crum and Bailey is not limited to kidney stone detection and removal. The technology can also be used to stop internal bleeding and ablate (or destroy) tumours. (ANI)