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The University of Southampton

'Smart stethoscope' listens to kidney stones

Published: 27 October 2004

Professor Tim Leighton from the University of Southampton's world-renowned Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR) and Dr Andrew Coleman, of Guy's and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust are developing with industry a 'smart stethoscope' for monitoring the effectiveness of treatments to shatter kidney stones.

The current procedure, called lithotripsy, focuses thousands of shock waves onto kidney stones in an effort to break them into small pieces which can then be dissolved by drugs or passed from the body in urine. However, it is difficult to discover exactly when the treatment has succeeded in breaking the stone and patients frequently have to experience more shocks than necessary.

The 'smart stethoscope' listens to the echoes, which reverberate around the body after each shock wave. The device has also been used clinically at the London hospitals Guys and St Thomas.

"It's an imperfect analogy, but consider a railwayman walking along the length of a train, hitting the metal wheels with a hammer," explained Professor Leighton. "If the wheel rings nicely, he knows that it's not cracked. If the wheel is cracked, it gives a duller sound.

"We are looking for the stone to go from being intact at the start of treatment (when it will give a nice ring "tick" sound) to being fragmented at the end of the treatment (when it will give a duller "tock" sound)."

In addition to Professor Leighton and Dr Coleman, the team involved Dr Paul White of ISVR, Graham Ball of AWE, PhD students Fiammetta Fedele, Riza Jamaluddin and Cary Turangan and Andrew Hurrell of Precision Acoustics Ltd.

Commercial negotiations between the inventors, the University's Centre for Enterprise and Innovation and manufacturers of lithotripters are underway. The project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC).

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Notes for editors

  1. Digital images are available.
  2. The Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR) at the University of Southampton is an internationally renowned centre of excellence in teaching, research and consulting. In the latest Research Assessment Exercise, it received the top 5* rating. The University is currently raising funds for a £5.7 million new building for the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research. The interface between technology and humans has been at the centre of ISVR's activities, with active research and teaching programmes in audiology (including a highly respected MSc course), human vibration interactions, medical imaging, patient monitoring and physiological modelling. Clinics at ISVR (including the South of England Cochlear Implant Centre) and collaborations with hospitals are at the core of these projects. ISVR also runs undergraduate courses in various aspects of sound and vibration: an MEng/BEng degree in Acoustical Engineering, a BSc in Acoustics and Music and a new BSc programme in Audiology.
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