VANCOUVER -- A portable ultrasound device developed by a Burnaby company in 2017 is being redeployed as a tool in the fight against COVID-19.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia are working with health-care providers in rural and remote areas of the province to speed up coronavirus diagnosis and treatment using point-of-care ultrasound scanners developed by Clarius Mobile Health.

The scanners compare ultrasound images of a patient's lungs to an online library of such images, using artificial intelligence to diagnose COVID-19 based on what the lungs look like.

"With this scanner, we can potentially detect COVID-19 lung changes earlier while waiting for lab test results," said Dr. Teresa Tsang, one of the lead researchers, in a news release.

"This may also enable us to anticipate who will likely deteriorate rapidly, so that we can support these patients optimally from the start."

A total of 50 scanners are ready for deployment to family doctors and hospital acute care units in rural B.C., according to UBC, and 30 additional scanners will be distributed to urban acute care units managed by Vancouver Coastal Health.

The project is part of a $2.5-million initiative led by B.C.'s Digital Technology Supercluster and known as Intelligent Network Point of Care Ultrasound (IN-PoCUS). The goal of the initiative is to improve diagnosis in rural areas.

The Clarius scanners have been part of IN-PoCUS since 2017, but were repurposed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.