UBC researchers join with partners to develop portable ultrasound scanner network for COVID-19

Dr. Teresa Tsang, Purang Abolmaesumi, Robert Rohling and Dr. Oron Frenkel

UBC researchers are collaborating with local partners to establish a network of portable, handheld ultrasound scanners th­at can soon accelerate COVID-19 diagnosis in B.C. and potentially beyond.

The scanners pair a locally-developed commercial ultrasound device with a secure online library of lung ultrasound images and a specially developed artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm, allowing health care practitioners to diagnose COVID-19 at the point of care — almost instantly.

Family doctors and acute care units in rural B.C. will be the first users, with 50 units ready for deployment. More than 30 additional scanners will be distributed to urban acute care sites managed by Vancouver Coastal Health.

The project is co-led by Dr. Oron Frenkel, an emergency physician at St. Paul’s Hospital and a clinical assistant professor at UBC’s faculty of medicine; Dr. Teresa Tsang, UBC cardiologist and professor of medicine and director of echocardiography at Vancouver General Hospital and UBC Hospital; Purang Abolmaesumi, professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Robert Rohling, professor of electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering.

“With this scanner, we can potentially detect COVID-19 lung changes earlier while waiting for lab test results,” says Tsang. “This may also enable us to anticipate who will likely deteriorate rapidly, so that we can support these patients optimally from the start.”

Data from the field suggests that the scanner can detect up to 33 per cent more cases of COVID-19 pneumonia than some current lab tests. “It’s easy to use, so even physicians with less experience can obtain fast, accurate results,” said Tsang.

The scanners — called PoCUS, for point-of-care ultrasound — were designed and provided by Burnaby-based Clarius Mobile Health.

The team will build Canada’s first ultrasound library for lung disease and will use AI to enable the handheld scanners to accurately detect patterns typical of COVID-19 and other lung diseases at the point of care.

“This project demonstrates UBC’s expertise in applied AI research,” said Purang Abolmaesumi, the Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Engineering at UBC. “With these scanners, we showcase UBC’s and B.C.’s cutting-edge capabilities in developing AI technology for medical imaging, with direct impact on our community and the Canadian health care system.”

Robert Rohling, who also leads the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems at UBC, highlighted the different contributions of the project members and partners. “Providing accurate, timely diagnostics for COVID-19 is a tremendous challenge. What really helps to solve it is the diverse and talented team. Each member is a leader in their field but more important is that doctors are working with engineers and UBC is working with B.C. companies.”

The scanners can be used for point-of-care ultrasound (commonly abbreviated PoCUS), and were designed and provided by Burnaby-based Clarius Mobile Health. They can be disinfected easily between patients and come with a mobile phone app for ease of use.

Pivoting in the midst of COVID-19

The Clarius scanners have been in use since 2017 but were swiftly adapted in March to diagnose COVID-19 in order to contribute to the public health response to the virus.

It is part of Intelligent Network Point of Care Ultrasound (IN-PoCUS), a $2.5 million project led by B.C.’s Digital Technology Supercluster aimed at improving health care diagnosis in rural B.C.

The Digital Technology Supercluster solves some of industry’s and society’s biggest problems through Canadian-made technologies. It brings together private and public sector organizations of all sizes to address challenges facing Canada’s economic sectors including healthcare, natural resources, manufacturing and transportation.

Other funding and in-kind contributions were provided by Providence Health Care, Clarius Mobile Health, Change Healthcare, UBC, Vancouver Coast Health and Rural Coordination Centre BC.

Let's Work Together

Join us. Bring research and innovation insight to your biggest challenges. We work with industry, non-profit and government partners to accelerate solutions for the future.

Partner with Us
UBC Crest The official logo of the University of British Columbia. Arrow An arrow indicating direction. Arrow in Circle An arrow indicating direction. Caret An arrowhead indicating direction. E-commerce Cart A shopping cart. Time A clock. Chats Two speech clouds. Facebook The logo for the Facebook social media service. Social Media The globe is the default icon for a social media platform. TikTok The logo for the TikTok social media platform. Calendar Location Home A house in silhouette. Information The letter 'i' in a circle. Instagram The logo for the Instagram social media service. Linkedin The logo for the LinkedIn social media service. Location Pin A map location pin. Mail An envelope. Telephone An antique telephone. Play A media play button. Search A magnifying glass. Arrow indicating share action A directional arrow. Speech Bubble A speech bubble. Star An outline of a star. Twitter The logo for the Twitter social media service. Urgent Message An exclamation mark in a speech bubble. User A silhouette of a person. Vimeo The logo for the Vimeo video sharing service. Youtube The logo for the YouTube video sharing service. Future of work A logo for the Future of Work category. Inclusive leadership A logo for the Inclusive leadership category. Planetary health A logo for the Planetary health category. Solutions for people A logo for the Solutions for people category. Thriving cities A logo for the Thriving cities category. University for future A logo for the University for future category.