Ultrasound Scanner (60th Anniversary)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

I thank Angela Constance for bringing the debate to Parliament and I welcome those who have joined us in the public gallery this evening.

I am pleased to take part in today’s debate to mark the 60th anniversary of the ultrasound scanner. I believe strongly that we should remember and celebrate our proud medical history in Scotland and celebrate the medical discoveries and innovations that have had such an important, significant and positive influence in medicine and medical innovation across the rest of the world. That is what drives our scientists, our medical minds and our innovators of today, as they look to the future of medicine.

Ultrasound is a prime example of an invention here in Scotland that has benefited millions of people over the world since its inception. There is an old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. That is true with ultrasound. At the time, X-ray was being used to examine unborn babies, and tests found that that led to a higher risk of leukaemia and other cancers in the early lives of the children. The development of ultrasound was a revolutionary new procedure, using high-frequency sound waves to create an image and causing no harm to the foetus.

As is often the case with new inventions, the right combination of people and factors needed to be in place. As we have heard, that was the case in Glasgow during the 1950s for ultrasound. Ian Donald had served as a medical officer in the Royal Air Force during the second world war and had become interested in the potential of using radar and sonar technology for medical purposes. In 1954, Ian Donald became Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Glasgow. There was still large-scale shipbuilding in Glasgow, and ultrasonic techniques were used to test for flaws in the metal parts of ships. Donald realised he could replicate those techniques, and he teamed up with engineer Tom Brown, who worked for the Glasgow-based manufacturing firm Kelvin and Hughes, which produced ultrasonic testing equipment.

As Angela Constance has already said, Dugald Cameron, an industrial designer in his third year at the Glasgow School of Art, was commissioned to design what was to become the Lund machine. Initially, it was used to distinguish uterine cysts from solid tumours, but it has come a long way since then. It is a procedure that is used every day, is completely safe and is now used to monitor babies in the womb and diagnose conditions, and by surgeons for certain procedures. Let us not forget how ultrasound has also benefited the animal world, with similar medical developments for veterinary surgeons. My colleague John Scott may mention that later.

Scotland continues its long tradition of leading in the field of ultrasound to this day. Advances in software and hardware have transformed the level of detail that is available in an ultrasound scan. From the early days of a grainy two-dimensional image on a screen, we can now generate a three-dimensional image on a high-definition display, or even use ultrasound scans as the basis for a three-dimensional printed model. Not far from here, Canon Medical Research Europe is developing new innovations in the field of ultrasound, from making a three-dimensional print model of a baby’s face to making life easier for surgeons by combining magnetic resonance imaging and other scans with real-time ultrasound images during surgery. In addition, as in so many other fields, artificial intelligence and machine learning herald new opportunities for ultrasound in the future, improving our ability to detect and identify medical issues and begin treatment at the earliest possible stage.

It is important to pay tribute today to Professor Ian Donald, engineer Tom Brown, Professor Dugald Cameron and John Fleming for their contributions to this ground-breaking innovation. One interesting point from the history of ultrasound, which is not mentioned in the motion, is that Professor Donald discovered the equipment when he started working at Babcock and Wilcox in Renfrew, where an industrial version of ultrasound was being used. By refining that machinery and building the understanding of what the human body looked like when viewed with ultrasound, Professor Donald, together with all the others, including those who are mentioned in the motion, created the foundations of the ultrasound scanner that we know today.

It might be hard for some people to believe that, out of a visit to a boilermaker beside the Clyde, we can now give parents-to-be a detailed model of their child’s face before birth. However, it is not difficult if one knows a little about Scotland’s proud tradition of innovation and invention. We should rightly be proud that Scotland, having played such an important role in the origins of obstetric ultrasound, continues to imagine, innovate and create the next generation of this fantastic technology.