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"Smart stethoscope" keeps an ear on kidney stones


December 14, 2012

The Smart stethoscope is designed to let clinicians know if a patient's kidney stone treatment has been successful

The Smart stethoscope is designed to let clinicians know if a patient's kidney stone treatment has been successful

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When kidney stones can’t be dissolved using medication, the next step is usually a procedure known as shock wave lithotripsy. This involves focusing a series of high-intensity acoustic pulses onto the stones, until they break apart to the point that they can be passed in urine or dissolved by drugs. Using current monitoring techniques, however, it can be difficult to tell when and if that point has been reached. A new device known as the Smart stethoscope lets clinicians know, by listening.

The stethoscope was developed by Prof. Tim Leighton from the University of Southampton, in collaboration with Guy's and St. Thomas' Foundation Trust (GSTT) and UK-based tech firm Precision Acoustics Ltd.

Its handset is placed against the patient’s skin, where it monitors the lithotripsy-delivered shock wave pulses as they echo off the kidney stone. As long as the stone remains intact, those echoes have a sort of “tick” sound – once it’s shattered, however, they become more of a “tock.”

Prof. Tim Leighton with the Smart stethoscope

The use of a monitoring system such as the Smart stethoscope not only means that patients won’t receive any more of the painful shocks than necessary, but also that the procedure won’t unknowingly be stopped prematurely – currently, over half of all patients are sent home before their stones have been sufficiently shattered. Additionally, the device can be used to assess whether or not a patient’s kidney stones will respond to lithotripsy in the first place, so they won’t have to go through the procedure if an alternative is what’s needed.

Presently, lithotripsy patients’ stones are monitored using a fluoroscopic X-ray system or ultrasound. Unlike X-rays, however, the Smart stethoscope delivers no harmful radiation. It’s also relatively inexpensive, simple to use, and is reportedly very accurate – in clinical trails of over 200 patients, it’s achieved an accuracy rate of 94.7 percent. By contrast, clinicians using a conventional “state-of-the-art equipment suite” managed just 36.8 percent.

The Smart stethoscope is currently being developed commercially in a partnership with Precision Acoustics.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

Source: University of Southampton

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth


Joel Detrow

As a sufferer of kidney stones,and the extreme pain they bring,I'm glad someone is doing something about them.Now if they could just develop a one off pill to get rid of them,that would be wonderful!

David Whyte
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