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Next-Gen Device Instantly Adds 3D Capabilities to 2D Ultrasound Imaging Systems

By MedImaging International staff writers
Posted on 13 Oct 2022
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Image: The affordable and user-friendly device could make high-quality medical imaging more accessible in diverse communities (Photo courtesy of Pexels)
Image: The affordable and user-friendly device could make high-quality medical imaging more accessible in diverse communities (Photo courtesy of Pexels)

Ultrasound imaging typically uses a handheld probe to send a beam of ultrasonic waves toward a target, like a tumor; clinicians can determine its size, shape, and location based on how the waves bounce back. Cancer care providers use ultrasound to identify abnormal tissues and tumors for screening and diagnosis. Clinical ultrasound systems mostly operate in 2D, which restricts the range of view during a scan. During a 2D ultrasound scan, a slight change in the angle of the probe or the patient’s posture can make objects appear larger or smaller than they are. Now, a new affordable and user-friendly device could make high-quality medical imaging more accessible in diverse communities by instantly adding 3D capabilities to 2D ultrasound imaging systems.

Researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (Urbana, IL, USA) have received USD 2 million in funding from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health to develop a new device that can instantly add 3D capabilities to 2D ultrasound imaging systems. The researchers’ proposed device uses a clip-on technique to easily integrate with the 2D ultrasound probes that most clinics already own. 3D systems are available in some clinics, but they are mainly used in high-end facilities for specialized care. Aptly named FASTER, the device is designed to instantly enable real-time 3D ultrasound imaging for clinics in diverse communities, especially those where 3D imaging is cost prohibitive. The versatile model means that as imaging technology evolves, FASTER will, too.

While a 2D ultrasound scan uses a stationary probe to direct a beam of sound waves in a fixed direction, a 3D ultrasound scan sweeps the beam back and forth. The two most common methods of doing this - manual rotation or automatic motors - can be unwieldy and impractical for scaled-up use. With small, fast-tilting mirrors, FASTER can sweep the ultrasonic waves while the probe itself remains stationary, a key innovation that aims to make 3D imaging systems faster and more compact. In FASTER’s first clinical application, the researchers will focus on imaging axillary lymph nodes on patients with breast cancer. In addition to clinical applications, FASTER could significantly impact basic research in ultrasound, as the device provides a robust, low-cost solution for ultrafast 3D imaging, the foundation for many advanced ultrasound imaging methods, such as shear wave elastography, functional neural imaging, and super-resolution imaging.

“With the rapid development of pocket-sized, handheld ultrasound imaging systems, more and more ultrasound imaging procedures can be done by individuals without formal sonography training. 3D imaging is essential in these situations because non-experts can scan the general location in need of attention, and a physician can interpret the images,” said Pengfei Song, a researcher at the Beckman Institute and an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and bioengineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who is leading the project.

“We want 3D ultrasound imaging to be a possibility wherever 2D ultrasound imaging is used,” said Zhijie Dong, a Ph.D. student in the Song Lab who is leading the technology development for FASTER. “We hope that access to 3D technology will drastically improve the level of care that clinics can offer.”

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