Ultrasound technology guides anaesthetic injections

Operations performed with regional anaesthetic could become easier using technology under development at Dundee University.

Scientists are about to start work on ultrasound equipment to help doctors guide anaesthetic injections in procedures such as hip and knee replacements.

The university’s Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSaT) will undertake the £249,000 programme over 18 months in partnership with US ultrasound firm Zonare and UK company Envision.

The eight-person team, led by the institute’s deputy director, Dr Sandy Cochran, will create a device that allows doctors to collect and monitor ultrasound data while injecting the anaesthetic.

‘One of the biggest challenges will be the ergonomic design of the probe,’ Cochran told The Engineer.

‘The doctor will have to hold the equipment, which is slippery from the ultrasound gel, look at the screen and operate the needle at the same time. It’s a really difficult procedure so the question is “how can we make it as easy as possible?”

The equipment will include two ultrasound arrays and the team will have to develop software to combine the two sets of data into a single image. They will also need to create a sheath for the device to keep it sterile.

‘Another unique aspect of the project is that we will be testing it with cadavers preserved in a new way without formaldehyde,’ said Cochran. ‘Normally, cadavers are stiff and give off a lot of gas, but these will be more like living people.’

The project has secured funding from the Medical Research Council’s Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme. It is supported by Scottish Health Innovations, the company that works with NHS Scotland to develop new medical ideas.

Experts from Edinburgh Napier University will assist in creating a prototype of the device and turning it into a commercial product with further government funding.