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New medical imaging device arrives for testing at Bosnia MASH unit

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August 27, 1996 Share This!

RICHLAND, Wash. — In the TV series M*A*S*H, Hawkeye Pierce and B. J. Honeycutt knew that the key to survival for a seriously wounded GI was a quick and accurate diagnosis of his battlefield injuries.

The same is true in real-life field hospitals nearly a half-century after the Korean War. What happens during the "golden hour" -- the 60 minutes immediately following a serious combat injury -- often determines if the soldier is going to make it.

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. But now, medical technology experts from the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a portable system that will bring the benefits of sophisticated ultrasound imaging used in major hospitals to the front lines.

The MUSTPAC-1 (short for Medical Ultrasound, Three-dimensional and Portable with Advanced Communications) allows a field medic or physician 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.

"These units will be used by physicians to quickly assess a variety of injuries and illnesses," explains Rik Littlefield, the project manager at Pacific Northwest. "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."

Earlier this month, a first generation of the portable imaging system was delivered to the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital at Camp Broderick near Tuzla, Bosnia, where it is being evaluated until Sept. 4. The system was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this year.

"The physicians of the 212th MASH are providing critical input that will make future generations of these systems operate even more efficiently in deployed areas," says Capt. Chris Macedonia, an Army physician 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."

According to Littlefield, physicians are using the Bosnia field operation to evaluate how the system's many aspects, including 3-D visualization, can make a difference in a remote environment.

"A key feature of this system is that a physician or ultrasound specialist needs only a few minutes of training to use it effectively," he explains. "They can scan the patient in real time for diagnosis and store the image as a 3-D dataset, then later rescan the 3-D dataset using a simulated ultrasound probe that looks, feels and acts like the injury.

"Scans taken in Bosnia will be transmitted over telecommunication lines and perhaps even the Internet and examined by doctors at several sites in Germany and the United States. If they want to, these consulting doctors can work on-line with their colleagues in the field, seeing the same images, discussing the case and providing expert diagnosis."

During MUSTPAC's development, Pacific Northwest researchers were aided by clinical studies performed by medical personnel at Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma, Wash. A collaborative team of experts from Silicon Graphics, Hitachi, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Medical Advanced Technology Management Office, the Fraunhofer Center for Research in Computer Graphics, Georgetown University Medical Center and the FDA also provided assistance. Funding was provided by DoD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The MUSTPAC-1 system weighs about 85 pounds and fits in a backpack. It operates on standard 120-volt AC power and can be configured to operate on batteries.

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

In addition to battlefield applications, the system's developers believe it will be useful to rural physicians in treating medical emergencies and may be used to provide assistance in hard-to-access places such as mountains, boats and even outer space.

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

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