Clinical trial underway: Miniature ultrasound device could revolutionize pain relief

February 18, 2010

It looks more like an iPod than a medical tool. But the latest miniature ultrasound device created by Cornell biomedical engineering graduate student George K. Lewis could one day introduce a whole new level of home therapy for arthritis, injury and other painful ailments.

The sleek blue-and-white device slips into a pocket and sends ultrasound waves deep into muscles via a coin-sized pad. This is the transducer, which converts electrical energy into ultrasound.

Lewis hopes that this model - possibly the world's smallest ultrasound device - can hit the marketplace and find itself in the pockets of millions of people.

Since first publishing research about his pocket-sized devices in 2007, Lewis has continued to improve them, making them smaller and more efficient. He recently teamed with MBA student Bryant Guffey to form ZetrOZ Inc. to try and take the devices to the market.

And to give the systems medical legitimacy, Lewis - a National Science Foundation fellow and a Cornell Presidential Life Sciences fellow - has partnered with Cary Reid, a geriatrician at Weill Cornell Medical College's Irving Sherwood Wright Center on Aging, and Charles Henderson, senior research associate in the Department of Human Development, to prepare their first clinical trial. The study will focus on osteoarthritis patients to determine whether the devices can significantly reduce joint pain. The devices are likely useful for all types of arthritis, Lewis said.

Ultrasound is often used to relieve muscle and joint pain but requires patients to receive treatments in doctors' and physical therapists' offices. Lewis' mini-machine would allow people to receive such treatment at home and work.

Reid said that medications are the primary way to treat pain in older patients, but with age comes increased risk of complications. There is a "great need" to support research into non-drug therapies for pain, Reid said.

Lewis' latest prototype sends low-intensity energy in the form of ultrasound waves from the transducer into the body, which is gentle enough to be kept close to the skin for up to 10 hours.

The clinical study at Weill Cornell will be restricted to patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Reid emphasized that for the study to be successful, participants must not only experience reduced pain, but also increased mobility.

"The most rigorous outcome or benchmark to judge this treatment is whether people change their overall level of activity as a consequence of it," Reid said.

Lewis and Guffey also hope to eventually demonstrate that the could be used for such groundbreaking therapies as muscle healing and even drug delivery. For example, Lewis hopes his device can affect treatment for the brain cancer glioblastoma, which is the subject of Lewis' Ph.D. thesis. After tumor removal surgery, a surgeon would place a dissolving drug wafer into the hole, and the ultrasound would help spread the drug to kill the remaining cancer.

However, to make new claims and get FDA approval will require additional clinical studies down the road, Lewis said.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Pair of discoveries illuminate new paths to flu and anthrax treatments

October 17, 2017
Two recent studies led by biologists at the University of California San Diego have set the research groundwork for new avenues to treat influenza and anthrax poisoning.

New method to measure how drugs interact

October 17, 2017
Cancer, HIV and tuberculosis are among the many serious diseases that are frequently treated with combinations of three or more drugs, over months or even years. Developing the most effective therapies for such diseases requires ...

Research finds that zinc binding is vital for regulating pH levels in the brain

October 17, 2017
Researchers in Oslo, Norway, have discovered that zinc binding plays an important role in the sensing and regulation of pH in the human brain. The findings come as one of the first studies that directly link zinc binding ...

Researchers find factor that delays wound healing

October 17, 2017
New research carried out at The University of Manchester has identified a bacterium—normally present on the skin that causes poor wound healing in certain conditions.

Study shows stress could be just as unhealthy as junk food

October 16, 2017
We all know that a poor diet is unhealthy, but a new BYU study finds that stress may just as harmful to our bodies as a really bad diet.

Childhood poverty, poor support may drive up pregnant woman's biological age

October 16, 2017
Pregnant women who had low socioeconomic status during childhood and who have poor family social support appear to prematurely age on a cellular level, potentially raising the risk for complications, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.