May 3, 2019 — The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) announced the development of a palm-sized 3-D ultrasound imaging system for radiation-free scoliosis assessment, dubbed Scolioscan Air. The system can bring accurate, safe and cost-efficient mass screening to schools and anywhere in the community.
The portable Scolioscan Air developed by the research team of PolyU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) was recently awarded Grand Award, Gold Medal with the Congratulations of Jury, and Special Merit Award at the 47th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva, April 10-14 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Scoliosis is one of the most prevalent spinal diseases affecting adolescents. It is estimated that about 3-5 percent of adolescents in Hong Kong suffer from scoliosis, with increasing prevalence in recent years [1, 2]. A recent study in Guangzhou indicated that for girls aged 14 and 15, the prevalence is as high as 13.8 percent. About 15 percent of the adolescents with scoliosis would have their condition deteriorating, and bracing or surgery would be required when curves progress to moderate or severe status. Early detection of scoliosis conditions and regular check-up during the rapid growing period of adolescent school-children is thus crucial. At present, X-ray imaging is the clinical gold standard for scoliosis assessment, but radiation exposure may pose increased risk for cancer.
Being radiation-free and more cost-effective than prevailing X-ray imaging technologies, Scolioscan can facilitate mass screening and frequent follow-up monitoring. Clinical trials have proven the novel technology is very reliable, with accuracy of curve measurement comparable to X-ray assessment [3, 4]. Moreover, it can obtain images in any posture, provide vertebra rotation and muscle-related information, and form a 3-D spinal model for the three-dimensional analysis of deformity of the spine. All of this cannot be achieved by X-ray imaging systems commonly used at present, according to PolyU. Scolioscan can also be applied for conducting prognosis and monitoring treatment outcomes for each scoliosis patient so as to establish a personalized treatment plan.
The research team has recently applied the novel technology to a portable palm-sized Scolioscan Air they further developed, which weighs only 5 kg. “With this innovation, we can now literally bring the device and mass screening service to youngsters anywhere, anytime. It would facilitate the implementation of school-based scoliosis screening to detect and treat spinal curvatures before they become severe enough to cause chronic pain or other health issues among adolescents,” said Ir Prof. Zheng Yong-ping, head of BME and Henry G. Leong Professor in Biomedical Engineering, who led the research. “Moreover, when providing non-surgical treatment for scoliosis patients, healthcare personnel can use Scolioscan Air to conduct real-time assessment, so as to optimize the treatment outcome.”
Scolioscan Air consists of three hardware components: a palm-sized wireless ultrasound probe with an optical marker mounted at its bottom; a depth camera; and a laptop or tablet computer with dedicated software. The compact optical marker and depth camera replace the spatial sensor used in Scolioscan and thus help dramatically downsize the device.
In addition, the technology for 3-D ultrasound image reconstruction, visualization and measurement, including a fully automatic curvature measurement method and 3-D spinal deformity analysis software, developed by the team earlier can also be applied to Scolioscan Air.
The newly developed optical 3-D spatial tracking method for Scolioscan Air achieves a high degree of accuracy that is comparable with the original Scolioscan. Moreover, the technological compatibility makes Scolioscan Air readily available for commercialization for popular use. With dramatically reduced material cost, size and weight compared with other scanning systems, Scolioscan Air can be carried within a suitcase.
Scolioscan has been registered as a medical device in different countries since 2016, including the EU and Australia. A total of 23 patents globally for the related technology have been awarded to, or filed by, PolyU and the collaborating company. The clinic-based systems have been installed in clinics in Hong Kong, Macau, the Mainland, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, and more, and have been used for scoliosis scanning for more 4,000 patients.
For more information: www.polyu.edu.hk
 Student Health Services, Department of Health, HKSAR, October 2016: https://www.studenthealth.gov.hk/english/health/health_bsh/health_bsh_sco.html. Accessed on 2 May 2019.
 Fong , et al. A population-based cohort study of 94401 children followed for 10 years exhibits sustained effectiveness of scoliosis screening. Spine Journal. 2015;15:825–33
 Zheng et al. A reliability and validity study for Scolioscan: a radiation-free scoliosis assessment system using 3D ultrasound image. Scoliosis and Spinal Disorders (2016) 11:13
 Brink et al. A reliability and validity study for different coronal angles using ultrasound imaging in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. The Spinal Journal 18(6), 2017.