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Portable medical system named year's top technology by Discover

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June 27, 1997 Share This!

RICHLAND, Wash. — A portable medical system that will bring the benefits of sophisticated ultrasound imaging used in major hospitals to remote locations has been named the winner of the 1997 Discover Magazine Award for Technological Innovation in the computer hardware and electronics category.

The device was developed by medical technology experts from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., the U.S. Army, Department of Defense and the Fraunhofer Center for Research in Computer Graphics in Providence, R.I. Funding was provided by DoD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Winning innovators and their technologies were announced at a ceremony May 31 at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. Judges in the computer hardware and electronics category included Hans Fantel, consumer electronics columnist at The New York Times; Jim Hartz, host of the PBS science series "Innovation;" Michael Miller, vice president and editor-in-chief at PC Magazine; and Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association.

The MUSTPAC-1 (short for Medical Ultrasound, Three-dimensional and Portable with Advanced Communications) was developed for use at Army field hospitals and was tested at a U.S. Army MASH unit in Bosnia last August. However, the system's developers already are planning to make it available to others including rural physicians and those treating medical emergencies in hard to access places such as mountains, boats and even outer space.

"Until now, the mobile, isolated nature of a field hospital has prevented the use of sophisticated but cumbersome diagnostic equipment that is critical to treating life threatening wounds and injuries," explained Rik Littlefield, project manager at Pacific Northwest. "But the MUSTPAC-1 brings the benefits of sophisticated ultrasound imaging used in major hospitals to the front lines and other remote locations."

The MUSTPAC-1 allows a field medical worker to perform three-dimensional scans of an ill or injured soldier and have those scans interpreted by experts anywhere in the world. Such a device, say Army officials, could reduce the number of battlefield deaths.

For less severely injured soldiers, the technology promises to provide previously unavailable medical diagnosis and treatment and improved quality of care at lower cost.

"The portable system is designed to provide on-the-spot visualization of internal bleeding, injuries to solid organs and penetrating injuries. For more subtle and non-life threatening conditions, the images can be sent electronically anywhere in the world for further evaluation," says Littlefield.

In Bosnia last September, physicians at the 212th MASH used the system and transmitted the scans over telecommunication lines and the Internet to be examined by doctors at a military hospital in Germany.

"The physicians of the 212th MASH provided critical input that will make future generations of these systems operate even more efficiently in deployed areas," says Maj. Chris Macedonia, one of the system's inventors and an Army physician temporarily deployed to the MASH unit. "The end result will be rugged, lightweight and easily used systems that will be mass-produced and widely made available to physicians in remote areas around the world."

"A key feature of this system is that it's easy to use," Littlefield explains. "The field operator doesn't need to understand ultrasound images --the operator just scans the patient and sends the 3D dataset to an expert for diagnosis. Then we give the experts a simulated ultrasound probe that lets them examine the 3D dataset just as if they were using a real ultrasound probe to examine the patient directly. The interface is so natural to them that they need only a few minutes training to use the system effectively."

During MUSTPAC's development, Pacific Northwest researchers were aided by medical personnel at Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma, Wash., and by medical visualization and telecollaboration software designers at the Fraunhofer Center for Research in Computer Graphics. A supporting team of experts from Silicon Graphics, Hitachi, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Medical Advanced Technology Management Office, Georgetown University Medical Center and the FDA also provided assistance.

System components include a Silicon Graphics Indy computer, an unmodified Hitachi standard two-dimensional ultrasound system and the TeleInViVo software from Fraunhofer.

The MUSTPAC-1 system weighs about 85 pounds and fits in a backpack but Pacific Northwest researchers think they can reduce its weight to 60 or 65 pounds soon. The system operates on standard 120-volt AC power and can be configured to operate on batteries.

For more information, contact Rik Littlefield at (509) 375-3927 or E-mail at, or Maj. Chris Macedonia at (202) 687-2754 or

Tags: Energy, Batteries

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