The new device could better guide surgeons working in the heart and potentially allow more of patients' clogged arteries to be cleared without major surgery, engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology said.
The device combines ultrasound transducers with processing electronics on a single 0.05-inch silicon chip, transmitting its signals to the outside world using just 13 tiny cables, permitting it to easily travel through circuitous blood vessels, the researchers said.
"Our device will allow doctors to see the whole volume that is in front of them within a blood vessel," mechanical engineering Professor Levent Degertekin said. "This will give cardiologists the equivalent of a flashlight so they can see blockages ahead of them in occluded arteries. It has the potential for reducing the amount of surgery that must be done to clear these vessels."
Imaging devices operating within blood vessels can provide higher resolution images than devices used from outside the body because they can operate at higher frequencies, the researchers said.
"If you're a doctor, you want to see what is going on inside the arteries and inside the heart, but most of the devices being used for this today provide only cross-sectional images," Degertekin explained. "If you have an artery that is totally blocked, for example, you need a system that tells you what's in front of you. You need to see the front, back and sidewalls altogether. That kind of information is basically not available at this time."