New ultrasound equipment is considered to be the biggest breakthrough in technology for more than 60 years.
Developed by the University of Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, it produces images that are 1
Researchers believe that its ability to accurately identify tumors may one day replace biopsies when investigating suspected cancer cases.
The method to be tested for humans uses existing scanning equipment.
In 1958, Professor Ian Donald of Glasgow University pioneered the use of ultrasound to reveal how babies develop in the womb of their mothers.
Ultrasound waves are beyond the reach of human hearing. Prof. Donald uses impulse waves to construct images that have never been seen before.
Women at Glasgow Maternity Hospital are the first to benefit from a technique that is now common across the globe.
But ultrasound scans have their limitations.
Even at their best they seem blurred. Sometimes they are so vague that it can be difficult to know whether the unborn child is a girl or a boy.
Nearly microscopic quality
Scanning a screen at a lab in Heriot-Watt shows none. This is the prostate gland.
In addition to the known scanning in gray, there is a new, far sharper color image produced by the new technique.
Dr. Vasilis Sboros says that diagnosing whether a tumor conceals is aided by an image that is 10 times more detailed than before.
"In the future, this is the picture we will all look at in the clinic," he says.
“It is as if we can look inside our bodies with a microscope, everywhere.
"This is the first technology that can be said to have almost microscopic quality. “
The scanning technology itself is not new. Innovations have come in physics, statistics and bubbles.
Clinicians have long used microbeads to increase the contrast of ultrasound images.
Usually these are miniature hydrocarbon gas capsules in a lipid shell, each bladder in millimeter fraction. Clouds of these are injected into the patient's bloodstream to diagnose liver and other diseases.
The team first used physics to monitor the behavior of individual microbubbles.
"They are very small, the size of red blood cells, so they go wherever the blood goes," says physicist Dr. Myread Butler.
"We examined bubbles in tubes, of tubes, one by one."
After the physics of the minibuses was established, Dr. Viping Lou used statistics and computing power to discover what ultrasound scans they were unable to show before.
Dr. Lou says that it helps to think of every van as a car in traffic. He uses artificial intelligence to create a powerful algorithm that can track anyone and discover the busiest routes.
"A car is like a van," he says, "and the road network is a blood vessel.
"What you are going to do is target these cars separately. Then you can work out their trajectories.
"Put them together statistically and then you can see how fast, how slow.
" How wide is the road, how narrow, where are the intersections – and where is something abnormal. "
a powerful analogy, although Dr. Lou says that reality is much more complicated.
Just like tracking individual cars would build a roadmap, so signal processing creates an image of blood vessels, observing where go the minibuses.
If they go somewhere unexpected, it may be a sign of cancer – and one that is detected much earlier than before.
These are super-resolution images that show details far beyond the physical limitations of the scanner.
Under normal conditions, scanning the patient's abdomen will show details no less than a millimeter. The new images are now 10 times better and the team expects to be able to refine the process to see even smaller features.
Human trials are expected to begin before the end of 2019 at Edinburgh Western General Hospital.
Urological surgeon consultant Professor Alan McNeill says it is "exciting" that Western will be the first hospital in the world to evaluate the technique.
"A method that accurately maps the blood flow of a tumor. It could provide new information about the disease state that allows us to better identify those men who need emergency treatment and those who they don’t, ”he explains.
Patients with the prostate are first tested because the patient's gland is usually removed completely during surgery. This means that the accuracy of super-resolution images can be compared to the true one.
But the method is expected to be applied to more than prostates – or even cancer.
The most important diseases change the blood flow of the body, which means that this technique can be used in medicine.
Breakthrough details were published in the Journal of Investigative Radiology during Hero-Watts' "Year of Health," which is intended to showcase multidisciplinary research.
The study was funded by a project from the Council for Scientific and Technological Facilities, called "star imaging inside," along with Engineering and Physical Science Research, the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation.