Slowing down ultrasound imaging, speeding up innovation

Imagine a video replay of a goal scored at a hockey game. If you view the replay at full speed, you might not be able to tell exactly what happened before the goal. But when you slow down the video frame by frame, you can see who hit the puck in and when it crossed the goal line.

RIA researchers have developed high-frame-rate ultrasound technology that works like a slow-motion replay. This technology can detect cardiovascular aging and risk factors for complications such as a stroke that current scanners can’t see, and may help medical professionals offer solutions before negative health outcomes occur.

Professor Alfred Yu, RIA research scientist, and his team developed this technology at the RIA. In their lab the team creates 3D printed models of blood vessels to test the scanners and show the effects of arteries stiffening, plaques and even complex issues like aneurysms (weak artery walls that create a bulge in blood vessels) beyond what is currently available on clinical ultrasound scanners.

These models are created from the CT scans of real patients – young people, older adults, people with large plaque build-ups and with stiff arteries. The models are pumped with a fluid that simulates blood and the ultrasound scans the models in action and showing the speed and direction of flow. in the vessel with irregular flow speeds and complicated flow patters are identified and 2D images are created that allow for easy diagnosis of problems.

How will these scanners help us age better? Yu says it’s all about early detection. “The more detailed scans will allow doctors and specialists to visualize much easier than what is currently available. They can see where in the body there is severe cardiovascular aging happening, then take this information and offer people early interventions,” he said.

Yu’s goal is that when physicians perform a cardiovascular assessment, they can use the high-frame-rate ultrasound to give an accurate assessment of heart health, cardiovascular age and stroke risk. Though it’s not available for clinical use yet, Yu and his team aim to have a marketable product by 2025. By finding earlier biomarkers and health indicators, this research will help people with cardiovascular disease detect problems earlier and help us age healthier.

You can learn more about Alfred Yu’s work on the LITMUS lab website: https://lit-mus.org/ 

This story was featured in the May issue of RIA’s Research Matters. Read other issues of Research Matters.