ABOVE: The adhesive patch designed by researchers at MIT Felice Frankel

Researchers have developed a small, adhesive patch that can perform continuous ultrasound imaging on the wearer for up to two days, according to a paper published yesterday (July 28) in Science. The device, designed by researchers at MIT, could allow clinicians to monitor patients’ internal organs over time, without the need for an expert sonographer—although the current design isn’t equipped for wireless data transfer and so has to remain hooked up to imaging equipment. 

The patch is a “significant breakthrough toward mobile and ambulatory ultrasound imaging,” Nanshu Lu, a biomedical engineer at the University of Texas at Austin who was not involved in the work, tells The Guardian. “Without needing a sonographer, wearable and accessible ultrasound sensors would open many future possibilities such as heart imaging during the exercise stress test, at-home lung imaging for early detection of pneumonia, and many more.”

The patch, which is roughly the size of a postage stamp, consists of an ultrasound probe and a gel-like layer that helps transmit the ultrasound and stick the device to the skin. In their study, researchers attached and left the devices on 15 people for 48 hours. Study coauthor Xiaoyu Chen, who also tried wearing the patch for that long, tells Wired, “I forgot that it was there.”

Data collected from the devices allowed the team to image exercise- and other activity-related changes in the shapes of blood vessels, muscles, and the heart and lungs, among other targets.

While the current design still has to be wired up to traditional ultrasound equipment, the technology could one day be made into a fully remote device. The MIT team’s work “is very exciting,” the University of Alberta’s Lawrence Le, who was not involved in the study, tells Wired. “In the future, I think it’s possible that this data can be wirelessly sent out.”

Study coauthor Xuanhe Zhao says in a press statement that the team envisions “a few patches adhered to different locations on the body, and the patches would communicate with your cellphone, where AI algorithms would analyze the images on demand. . . . We believe we’ve opened a new era of wearable imaging: With a few patches on your body, you could see your internal organs.”