Smartphone-based ultrasound awaits FDA clearance

One of the developers of a prototype ultrasound probe that connects to a smartphone is involved in a startup company that could bring the phone-based ultrasound to market next year if the FDA grants permission.

Mobisante, based in Redmond, Wash., has offered its device to nine beta-testing sites for the past couple of months while it awaits FDA approval to sell the yet-unnamed probe, MIT Technology Review reports. The company was founded by David Zar, who helped create the prototype two years ago while a computer engineer at Washington University in St. Louis, and by Sailesh Chutani, the former head of external research at Microsoft. (Chutani's group provided the Wash U. team with a technology grant, though Microsoft is not funding Mobisante.)

Zar and Chutani seem to be targeting community clinics with their product, which likely will be available in several versions costing $5,000 to $10,000 when it goes on sale. Expect the price to drop by half within three years, the Technology Review says. A standard ultrasound machine could run $50,000 or more.

One of the beta testers, vascular surgeon Dr. Oliver Aalami of Valley Medical Center in Renton, Wash., carries the phone-based ultrasound in his briefcase or the pocket of his lab coat--something he certainly can't do with the hospital's full-size ultrasound. "It saves me time and lets me worry about other things. I can focus on the rest of my practice," Aalami says.

"To use that [standard] machine, I have to wheel it out of the OR, and then take the elevator up four floors to the ICU," Aalami explains. "When you're in a tight room, you can't always get an ultrasound machine in without taking chairs out and moving the bed," he says.

The Mobisante device differs from other pocket ultrasounds--like GE Healthcare's Vscan and the Siemens Acuson P10--in that images don't have to be transferred to a PC before they're transmitted. The smartphone provides built-in cellular and/or Wi-Fi connectivity. Plus, there's no need to develop custom hardware. "Billions of dollars are being spent to make this platform more powerful, so it makes sense to ride that investment rather than try to duplicate it," Chutani says.

To learn more about Mobisante:
- read this MIT Technology Review story