Butterfly iQ: ultrasound for all

Tuesday, 23 April, 2019

Medical imaging creates visuals of the inside of a human body for analysis and treatment. It includes radiography, ultrasound, endoscopy, magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear medicine techniques such as positron emission tomography. Sadly, 4.7 billion people around the world don’t have access to medical imaging, and even in the developed world, the cost of an MRI or a CT scan can be prohibitive.

Enter the Butterfly iQ, an invention that may yet revolutionize global medicine. As portable as a stethoscope and costing $2,000, it’s a hand-held ultrasound scanner that generates clinical-quality images on a smartphone. These are then uploaded to the cloud, where any medical expert can analyze them. “A fusion of semiconductors, artificial intelligence, and cloud technology has made it possible to create a ubiquitous imaging solution that is clinically significant and category defining,” say Butterfly Network, the US company that developed the device.

The Butterfly iQ scanner could play a critical role in rural Africa, Asia and Latin America, where the nearest X-ray machine might be days away and the only CT and MRI scanners may be in the major cities. Jonathan Rothberg, Butterfly’s founder, had the idea because one of his daughters had a disease that caused kidney cysts needing regular scans, and he has now donated iQs to medical charities working in more than a dozen poor countries. Example: Several have gone to Bridge to Health, a Canadian group that works closely with Kihefo, which is based in Uganda.

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