Researchers at University College London, UK, have developed an optical ultrasound system with the potential to improve medical imaging performance for the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions.

The all-optical device eliminates electrical components and allows the safe usage of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to gain a better image of the required tissues.

In addition, the new optical ultrasound system integrates lightbeam scanning mirrors to enhance image quality and enable picture acquisition in various modes.

“The all-optical device eliminates electrical components and allows the safe usage of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to gain a better image of the required tissues.”

It combines optical ultrasound generating materials, ultrasound source geometries and a fibre-optic ultrasound detector to acquire and display images at video rates.

University College London researcher Erwin Alles said: “The flexibility offered by the scanning mirrors will allow for seamless switching between 2D and 3D imaging, as well as a dynamically adjustable trade-off between image resolution and penetration depth, without the need to swap imaging probe.

“Especially in a minimally invasive interventional setting, swapping imaging probes is highly disruptive, extends procedure times and introduces risks to the patient.”

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Unlike standard ultrasound imagers, which use electronic inducers to transmit high-frequency sound waves and receive their reflections, all-optical imagers utilise light to transmit and receive ultrasound waves.

Optical components can also be easily miniaturised and small all-optical ultrasound probes are expected to be significantly less expensive compared to the compact electronic ultrasound systems.

The prototype of the new optical ultrasound system was evaluated through imaging of a deceased zebrafish and a pig artery that was altered to mimic the dynamics of pulsing blood.

Data revealed the imaging capabilities of the new system comparable to an electronic high-frequency ultrasound device. Findings from the research were published in The Optical Society (OSA) Biomedical Optics Express journal.

Currently, the researchers are developing a long, flexible imaging probe for free-hand operation during clinical use, along with miniaturised variants for endoscopic applications.