Doctor Diagnoses His Own Cancer Using iPhone Ultrasound Device

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Meet Doctor John Martin — a vascular surgeon, by specialty — who in addition to his medical practice, recently accepted a position as the Chief Medical Officer of Connecticut-based health startup, Butterfly Network.

According to a report published by the MIT Technology Review, it was roughly a year ago when Dr. Martin began testing Butterfly Network’s prized creation — a palm-sized, iPhone-compatible ultrasound device dubbed Butterfly iQ, which the company describes as “the first solid-state ultrasound machine” to arrive in the U.S.

Noting how he’d been experiencing an “uncomfortable feeling in his throat” for sometime prior, Dr. Martin seized on the opportunity and decided to test Butterfly iQ on himself; applying gel to the apparatus, connecting it to his iPhone, and in a jaw-dropping turn of events, the Annapolis, Maryland-based vascular surgeon discovered a dark, three-centimeter mass embedded in his neck, which unfortunately turned out to be a mass of squamous-cell cancer.

“I was enough of a doctor to know I was in trouble,” Martin told the MIT Review, noting how he’s “not a cancer specialist” and therefore has no knowledge of how to diagnose the condition.

What Is Butterfly iQ?

Unlike traditional ultrasound equipment which generates and disperses sound waves into the body using a vibrating crystal mechanism, Butterfly iQ relies on “9,000 tiny drums etched onto a semiconductor chip,” which enables the electric razor-sized gadget to generate and capture sound echos — ultimately displaying the live feed on the display of a Bluetooth-connected iPhone.

Additionally, unlike the cumbersome ultrasound equipment used by hospitals and health clinics, Butterfly iQ is built in a semiconductor manufacturing plant, which the company says enables it to create more advanced and versatile technology that ends up costing less. For instance, Butterfly iQ will go on sale early next year for $1,999; and while that’s certainly not chump change, it’s still much more affordable than other ultrasound devices like the $6,000 PHILIPS Lumify.

Butterfly Network says it plans to pair the Butterfly iQ with its currently-in-development artificial intelligence (AI) software that’s designed to help just about anybody use the device as an effective diagnostic tool — even in the comfort of their own homes. Ultimately, the company hopes its ultrasound device will gain a more autonomous position in the market as a tool that “all people” can use regardless of their backgrounds.

Meanwhile, since diagnosing himself with cancer, Dr. Martin has undergone extensive surgery and radiation therapy to treat it — all while maintaining that the potential for a device like Butterfly iQ is truly endless.

“To look at this as just an ultrasound device is like looking at an iPhone and saying it’s just a phone,” Martin said, noting that “If you have a window into the body where anyone can afford it, everyone can use it, and everyone can interpret it, it becomes a heck of a lot more than an ultrasound device.”

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