New technology developed by German researchers allows existing traditional scanners to be used to generate high-resolution images of tumour vasculature by analysing ultrasound images.
Led by Dr Georg Schmitz from Ruhr-Universität Bochum and Dr Fabian Kiessling at the University Hospital Aachen, the new Motion Model Ultrasound Localization Microscopy is designed to easily differentiate tumour types.
In addition, the technique can be used to track the progress of chemotherapy treatment.
Based on contrast medium-enhanced ultrasound, the approach involves the administration of microbubbles that can travel in the bloodstream that appear as ‘shapeless white blobs’ in ultrasound images.
The technology uses algorithms to track the motion of the individual microbubbles, allowing researchers to monitor their journey through the blood vessels and count them.
Schmitz said: “We are currently attempting to teach the computer something that our eyes are able to do: namely read movement in a sequence of images in which a dot appears in different locations.”
According to the researchers, their motion also allows for fine vascular networks to be reconstructed, as well as the recording of direction and speed of blood flow.
When tested in three models, including one human subject, the technology is capable of monitoring the response of tumour vessels to chemotherapy in patients with breast cancer.
Kiessling said: “One reason why this is important is because new therapy approaches aim at manipulating the vascular system of tumours, in order to enhance the therapeutic effect by increasing the concentration of drugs in the tumours.”
While the technology is yet to be validated in large clinical studies, researchers believe it can be used even with standard ultrasound scanners with a low frame frequency.