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Sound vs. Kidney Stones

May 26, 2015

Scientists are re-purposing imaging ultrasound to make kidney stones hop their way out of trouble.



chiao_IMG_4780 Astronaut Leroy Chiao PhD tests ultrasound to reposition kidney stones in a mannequin test phantom National Space Biomedical Research Institute

Astronaut Leroy Chiao tests ultrasound to re-position kidney stones in a mannequin.(National Space Biomedical Research Institute)

Sound waves vs. kidney stones. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Kidney stones are extremely common in the United States. Shock waves can break them up, but surgery is often still needed to remove painful fragments from the body. But scientists have now completed a clinical trial using ultrasound waves to move the stones so they can make a safe exit on their own. Mike Bailey is an applied research engineer at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

MIKE BAILEY (University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory):

The user sees the kidney stone on the ultrasound image, and focuses ultrasound down to that spot and those sound waves bounce off the stone and that imparts some momentum into the stone that makes the stone hop to a new location, so we can push those fragments out of the kidney so they can then pass with the urine.


Bailey says two or three ultrasound pulses are often all that are needed. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.