Oxford University researchers have developed technology that combines ultrasound and electro-magnetic detection to help peer inside and identify abnormalities within tissue. So far, the system, dubbed Oxford Electromagnetic Acoustic Imaging (OxEMA), has shown good results in identifying calcium carbonate nodules within sheep kidneys (see above). Researchers believe that this technology will be a common option in ultrasound machines of the not too distant future.
The technology provides the ability to discriminate different electrical and mechanical properties of a tissue in a way not available from any current imaging technology which will potentially radically improve the identification of tumours and any other anomalous tissue characteristics. The imaging capabilities will initially be made available as an additional feature on a system which operates with a similar user interface to current ultrasound machines.
OxEMA has the potential to enable better, earlier diagnosis of numerous conditions and tumours, including some or all of breast, liver, kidney and thyroid cancer, as well as having applications in orthopaedics and other clinical areas. The technology provides an automatically registered, overlaid EMA image on top of the ultrasound image, providing the ability to simultaneously assess the electrical and mechanical properties of the same piece of tissue, with considerably improved diagnostic power.
Professor David Edwards, who leads this research at the Department of Engineering Science, said, “OxEMA has the capability of producing MRI-like images because it utilises the electromagnetic properties of tissue as the contrast mechanism. However, in combination with ultrasound we can achieve images of high spatial resolution without the use of large expensive magnets, keeping the size and cost of the system much lower than MRI. It also has the important advantage of being a non-ionising technology reducing the radiation exposure for the patient. Using the electromagnetic signature of the identified targets, the technology has the potential to be used in the classification and identification of specific tissue types. We are now working towards building an imaging system that can be used in a clinical environment”.