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Making sure medical applications of ultrasound are safe and effective

Improving effectiveness, compliance and safety

Ultrasound is an important clinical technique and is the second most commonly applied diagnostic imaging method in the UK after X-rays. In the UK, around 3 million obstetric and 8.5 million non-obstetric ultrasound imaging scans are carried out annually, growing at 10% per year.

For obstetric applications, where developing foetal tissue is exposed to ultrasound, safety is critical. Manufacturers must show that their equipment is compliant with existing safety requirements as stipulated by the EU Medical Device Directive or the US Food and Drug Administration reporting requirements.

Therapeutic ultrasound applications are emerging, where exposure is sufficiently high to generate irreversible changes in tissues. This change can be the result of rapid and large increases in temperature and is employed within High Intensity Focused Ultrasound surgical systems used for prostate and uterine fibroid treatments.

Key measurement tools for measuring exposure are ultrasonic hydrophones and radiation force balances. It is important that the performance of these devices is well understood, embodied within appropriate international standards and traceable to primary standards.

NPL has been in the vanguard of researching improved measurement and calibration methods able to address new measurement challenges provided by emerging medical ultrasound equipment; foremost amongst these are extended frequency ranges and elevated power output levels. Our research helps manufacturers develop new products and provides the healthcare user community with the confidence that diagnostic and therapeutic systems are safe and effective.

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Our research

From improving ultrasonic standards, to developing new devices and imaging technologies, we provide confidence in ultrasound imaging and help to unlock new capabilities. We specialise in:

Quantitative imaging

We help turn an image into a measurement to assist in diagnosing disease more accurately

Therapeutic ultrasound

We are at the forefront of standardisation for therapeutic ultrasound, to enable accurate characterisation of devices

Ultrasound standards development

We develop novel calibration and measurement techniques to underpin ultrasound safety

Our services

We give organisations access to a broad range of services, novel techniques and products. We help to establish confidence in ultrasonic devices for use across a variety of sectors, like manufacturing and healthcare.

Our world-class team also develops tissue mimicking materials to test the impact of ultrasound on humans, to help the creation of clear standards for the safe use of ultrasound.

Case study

NPL improves access to medical ultrasound quality assurance


Case study

Developing standard dosages for new ultrasound techniques


Case study

Improving accuracy of temperature measurement in ultrasound transducers


Our resources

We host a range of ultrasound resources for industry, from acoustics technical guides to output measurements for medical ultrasound. 


Our team

Our people are leaders in their fields. Take a look at our Ultrasound team.
View our team