MDs explore ultra-high frequency ultrasound tech

By Rosie Lombardi

Andrew NeedlesDoctors now have a powerful new tool to help them see small structures within the human body. Called the Vevo MD, the world’s first Ultra High-Frequency (UHF) ultrasound system, the technology was originally developed at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre during the nineties and later commercialized by FUJIFILM VisualSonics. “Any ultrasound application that exists today where high resolution is a requirement but the current systems reach limitations in what they can actually visualize, that’s where the Vevo MD system would come in,” says Andrew Needles (pictured), director of product management at FUJIFILM in Toronto.

“We say that we image the first three centimeters of the body with the Vevo MD,” adds Needles. “Physics dictates that at these high frequencies, you really can’t go deeper than that – but we can provide resolution that none of the other platforms have today within those first three centimeters. We are typically on the order of five to ten times higher in the resolution that we can achieve with our system.”

The Vevo MD system, which was recently cleared by Health Canada, has already been used in pediatric and neonatology settings in the U.S., and new applications in dermatology, rheumatology and musculoskeletal visualizations are now being explored, says Needles.

In pediatrics, the Vevo MD has been successfully used in anesthesiology to help doctors place lines and catheters by visualizing the small patient’s vessels and nerves.

“This is often done with standard frequency ultrasound, but in many of these very small children, especially the ones whose vascularity is compromised, it’s very hard to visualize where these vessels actually are. You need an instrument that has much higher resolution to see vessels that can be sub-millimeter in diameter.”

Without UHF, the alternative options are often intrusive and traumatizing. “You can run into all sorts of complications where you have to start either cutting to find a vessel or possibly move the child to a different department in the hospital if you can’t. You can use ultrasound instead of blindly sticking a child over and over again to get a needle into their arm.”

Beyond pediatrics, new applications are being explored at various hospitals across the globe that are using the Vevo MD system. “In dermatology, it’s being used to look for small lesions or cancers under the skin – standard ultrasound systems don’t visualize that critical first centimeter well. We’re seeing applications in musculoskeletal conditions and rheumatology, looking at hands, wrists, and ankles for fluid around joints in arthritis patients and others. It also may have potential for finding small lesions on the surface of the thyroid, but we are still exploring that.”

The UHF technology was originally developed during the nineties at the Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto for use in small animals in research. “Many hospitals are doing cutting-edge research, like Sunnybrook’s Imaging Research department did in developing UHF. Sunnybrook is actually still doing interesting work in other areas not related to us, like using a different type of ultrasound for treating brain tumors.”

Over the last couple of decades, a lot of innovative research has been conducted in hospitals, as they typically have affiliations with local universities and research centres to attract the best and brightest to work on their projects.

“What’s happening is that a lot of these technologies that are being developed within hospitals are then being licensed to companies as a way of generating jobs and growth in the local economy. They also create prestige and generate royalties back to the hospital, which helps them as well. I think it’s a true win-win situation for everybody.”

UHF ultrasound is still very new and various medical communities are feeling it out to find the best areas to use it, says Needles. To help medical organizations evaluate it, FUJIFILM has launched a campaign called the Discovery Challenge.

“We started it in the United States and we hope to bring the Discovery Challenge program to Canada soon. In it, we partner with large hospital centers that have unique applications for UHF and let them use the Vevo system for fairly short periods, say, a few weeks or months, to allow them to evaluate it and give us feedback on where they see the most potential. Our very first customers are helping us build the market, spread the word and build up the evidence to bring UHF into the mainstream.”

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