Sonogram on Your Phone? This Ultrasound ‘Sticker’ Could Let Pregnant Women Watch Their Babies Grow from Their Smartphones

Here's everything expecting parents should know about this new technology.

By: Amanda Mushro
Cropped shot of pregnant woman having a video call on smartphone while touching her belly, sitting on sofa at home. Using telemedicine app on smartphone to monitor her health.

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Cropped shot of pregnant woman having a video call on smartphone while touching her belly, sitting on sofa at home. Using telemedicine app on smartphone to monitor her health.

Photo by: Oscar Wong

Oscar Wong

During a normal pregnancy, most moms-to-be will only have a handful of sonograms where they’ll get to see their growing baby. However, pregnant women might soon be able to get a sneak peak at their babies every day from their own smartphones.

MIT engineers have developed a stamp-sized sticker that works like a sonogram to produce high-resolution images of the heart, lungs, and other organs. Researchers are hopeful that this new technology would allow doctors to have continuous ultrasound images of babies in utero for up to 48 hours, and patients could download an app on their phone so they can watch right along with their doctors. This new sonogram sticker could be key in diagnosing diseases or abnormalities that could be caught and treated earlier in a pregnancy.

"We envision a few patches adhered to different locations on the body, and the patches would communicate with your cell phone, where AI algorithms would analyze the images on demand," study senior author Xuanhe Zhao says in a press release. "We believe we’ve opened a new era of wearable imaging: With a few patches on your body, you could see your internal organs."

Currently, if a patient needs a sonogram, a large piece of equipment is brought in and an e-xray technician will perform the sonogram. It’s a quick and easy scan, but when the machine is turned off, so are the images. While there are some versions of wearable sonograms, the researchers of the study say those are bulky, uncomfortable, and rarely produce quality images. However, they say their sonogram sticker is different, and they are hopeful that the new sticker technology could continue to monitor the baby and the mother if there are any concerns about their health.

"We imagine we could have a box of stickers, each designed to image a different location of the body," Zhao says. "We believe this represents a breakthrough in wearable devices and medical imaging."

During the testing phase, researchers kept participants active to ensure the sticker would stay on their body and continue to take quality images. From simple tasks like sitting and standing, to getting active by jogging, biking, and lifting weights — the MIT researchers say the sonogram sticker did its job, stayed put, and produced clear images of their participants organs. They even watched participants' stomachs distend and then shrink back after drinking juice.

This sonogram sticker could also benefit other areas of healthcare like monitoring cancerous tumors and helping doctors further understand how our organs change during stressful times. They are hopeful that they could also detect smaller changes in the body, like when someone has hit their limit working out.

"With imaging, we might be able to capture the moment in a workout before overuse, and stop before muscles become sore," says study lead Xiaoyu Chen. "We do not know when that moment might be yet, but now we can provide imaging data that experts can interpret."

The sticker sonogram has potential to change the way doctors view and diagnose their patients, but it also sounds pretty impressive that we can watch our babies on our cellphones instead of looking at a screen in a doctor’s office.

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