Marvels of the Med City: Resoundant uses sound waves to diagnose - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Marvels of the Med City: Resoundant uses sound waves to diagnose disease

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- The use of sound waves in the medical field has a long history. But using them to "feel" the hardness of some of your most vital internal organs is brand new technology. It's called Magnetic Resonance Elastography, or an MRE. It helps to diagnose hardening of the liver due to disease without a biopsy, by giving doctors a color-coded, detailed map of your organ's tissue density.

"If this patient had a very stiff liver, the wavelength would be longer," said Dr. Richard Ehman, the CEO and inventor of Resoundant. "So the mathematical processing calculates the wavelength and converts that into tissue stiffness."

An MRE starts by using an abdominal driver, which is a type of paddle that sends vibrations through the patient's body. The patient is strapped in and carted into the machine, just like a regular MRI.

The idea was sparked nearly two decades ago. Now, the devices themselves are manufactured in the Med City.

"There's tremendous expertise in Rochester, and because they're located here, our engineers can work with closely with their engineers to make sure the result is what we want it to be," said Dr. Ehman.

Three-hundred Resoundant systems are installed all over the world on five continents, but Ehman said southeast Minnesota is the perfect spot to call home.

"Most of all it's Rochester because Rochester has the Mayo Clinic, and that's where these things come from," Dr. Ehman said. "We very much focus on real problems that our patients have, and if we can develop a solution like this that works very very well in our clinical practice, then we know that's going to be useful in the rest of the world."

Behind the scenes, what's producing the MRE sound waves is just the size of a kitchen microwave.

"We found many, many things, and in the end, we found out that the device that generated the vibrations we needed was a subwoofer," he said. "So the most important part that's inside this thing is a very high powered subwoofer."

What it produces is a colorful cross section picture of your body, and at a glance, Dr. Ehman can tell based on the images, which livers have disease. Without Resoundant, all of those patients would have had to go through biopsy surgery for a diagnosis.

"It replaces a procedure that's not very comfortable, that has a risk associated with it, it's much less expensive than the biopsy, and we actually believe it's more accurate in that diagnosis," said Dr. Ehman. Plus it takes less than five minutes, just a few breath holds, all thanks to the power of sound.

Dr. Ehman said this technology will not stop here. The next step is using it to diagnose the density of brain tumors, and eventually use it in diagnosis of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung disease and heart disease. At the Mayo Clinic, 4,000 patients have gotten an MRE scan since 2001.

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