Handheld Ultrasound May Help Monitor Muscular Dystrophy Progression

Margarida Azevedo, MSc avatar

by Margarida Azevedo, MSc |

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shutterstock_131027423Patients suffering from muscular dystrophy may soon be able to independently monitor their therapeutic response to medications with a revolutionary smartphone-linked device. The Acoustical Society of America invited the creators and researchers behind this device to their annual meeting last October 30, 2014 to give a presentation on how these so-called “point-of-care devices” can help place healthcare in the hands of the patient.

The study, conducted on mice models of the disease, was led by physicist Michael S. Hughes of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Together with colleagues John E. McCarthy, Jon N. Marsh, and Samuel A. Wickline at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, the team developed a new method to process ultrasound imaging in a way that makes it possible for hand-held instruments to quickly and conveniently produce medical information. One of the primary goals of the study was to evaluate how damaged muscles responded to muscular dystrophy medication.

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While it was a small scale study on animal models of muscular dystrophy, it expounds on previously completed research that demonstrated noninvasive ultrasound’s ability to monitor the condition of muscles — a particularly important issue to address, as some muscular dystrophy medications, such as steroids, can adversely affect one’s health if taken too often or for too long.

“The result implies you can monitor drug therapy with cheap point-of-care devices,” said Hughes. “We’d like to be able to use low-power handheld instruments, such as a microphone-sized ultrasound that can fit on a smartphone.”

In Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, for example, the muscles are fibrous and infiltrated with fat. Damaged muscles appear different in ultrasound imaging, which highlights the large benefit in developing a portable, user-friendly device that can help track muscle health.

One of the problems Hughes and his colleagues encountered was the volume of data ultrasound imaging generated, which would have the tendency to either make transmission impossible or take too long. They examined 5 healthy mice, 4 with untreated muscular dystrophy, and another 4 with steroid-treated muscular dystrophy for two weeks to find out if they could still effectively monitor muscle health with less than 10% of the original data. To accomplish this, they used a mathematical process called a spline, which smooths the data into average, notable values.

“If we can optimize the processing, we can increase the sensitivity and provide real-time performance,” said Hughes. “People with muscular dystrophy have to take the least amount of steroid that will give them the maximum therapeutic effect. This would let them do that.”