Researchers from Duke and Stanford Universities in the US have developed a new clip-on device that upgrades a standard two-dimensional (2D) ultrasound with three-dimensional (3D) imaging capabilities.

The device features a $10 microchip that is common to smartphones and 3D-printed materials and is designed to allow a 2D ultrasound machine to capture 3D images of infants’ brains while the baby is held in a parent’s arms.

The quality of the images obtained through the new technique is said to be similar to those of MRI or CT scans.

Duke University School of Medicine emergency physician Joshua Broder said: “With 2D technology, you see a visual slice of an organ, but without any context, you may mistake it for another part, or mistake one disease process or injury for another.

“These are all problems that can be solved with the added orientation and holistic context of 3D technology.

“The quality of the images obtained through the new technique is said to be similar to those of MRI or CT scans.”

“Gaining that ability at an incredibly low cost by taking existing machines and upgrading them seemed like the best solution to us.”

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Border and his team designed the new device to track the exact orientation of an ultrasound probe while imaging. They later put all the images together as a whole in three dimensions.

A prototype developed by the researchers has a 3D-printed harness that would snap on to the probe to securely attach the microchip, which tracks the position.

In a study conducted as part of the device’s ongoing clinical trials, physicians were reported to be able to image infants’ heads within seconds by using a normal ultrasound probe upgraded with the 3D conversion kit.

It is expected that the trials will support commercialisation of the clip-on device in two years, with plans to further refine the technology to perform additional 3D ultrasound activities such as the ability to capture a heart in motion.