Biomedical engineering professor Stephen Smith, who specializes in ultrasound imaging, said a move to three-dimensional imaging is the next logical step.
"Three-D ultrasound is already an established technology in many hospitals," Smith said. "With our new real-time 3-D transesophageal probe, we have all the benefits of the 2-D TEE probe and none of the drawbacks. We can generate sharp, high-contrast images of the whole heart and position heart catheters and ablation devices at the same time. We have already done so in laboratory tests on animals."
Smith and his team, including biomedical engineering graduate student Chris Pua, developed the probe specifically for use in hospitals and clinics. For example, they used the outer casing of a commercially available 2-D TEE probe to house their new 3-D model. The casing design already has been tested and approved for use.
The new Duke 3-D probe is tipped with a dime-sized array of 504 individual ultrasound sensors. Each sensor is as wide as a few human hairs. "It took a craftsman to create this probe," said Smith. "Not many graduate students could have done what Chris Pua has done."
"Maintaining the size of normal TE probes was a main factor in the design since 3-D imaging inherently requires significantly more sensors than 2-D imaging," said Pua. "The original casing held enough cabling for 64 transducer elements whereas our design successfully incorporates 8 times that number."
The probe generates ultrasound at 5 million vibrations per second, which, combined with the 504 sensors, provides great sensitivity and a sharp image, Smith said. And because the image is large enough to encompass the whole volume of the heart, fewer "pictures" need to be taken. This may shorten patient time in clinics, he said.