As artificial intelligence technology improves in the coming decades, the scanner might even be able to guide surgical robots without the help of a surgeon, the researchers said.
The 3-D ultrasound probe has yet to be tested in human patients, Smith said, but he added that his team believes the technology is ready for clinical trials.
The Duke team in 1987 developed the first-ever 3-D ultrasound scanner for imaging the heart in real time from outside the body. As technology enabled ever smaller ultrasound arrays, the researchers engineered probes that could fit inside catheters threaded through blood vessels to view the vasculature and heart from the inside.
Earlier this year, the team reported another advance: a 3-D ultrasound device including 500 tiny cables and sensors packed into a tube 12 millimeters in diameter -- small enough to be inserted through the incisions required for laparoscopic surgeries http://www.pratt.duke.edu/news/?id=417. The researchers then showed that the device can produce actual 3-D images of the beating hearts in animals.
The team has since demonstrated that the scanner also can be used to laparoscopically image other organs, including the spleen, liver and gall bladder.
In the current study, the researchers used the scanner to identify coordinates denoting the precise location of an artificial lesion inside a type of artificial organ, or "phantom," commonly used for testing imaging technologies. The researchers then entered the coordinates into a simple robot that controlled a biopsy needle, and the robot di