With medical costs rising year after year worldwide, it becomes increasingly important to make the correct diagnosis, yet keep diagnostics costs contained. Conventional imaging techniques like X-ray and ultrasound scans are less expensive options but have their limitations. A new spin-out from Oxford University, Oxford, UK, is working to ramp up the quality and diagnostic power of the most widely used diagnostic imaging tool — ultrasound imaging.

Fig. 1 — Conducting ultrasound imaging.

There are more than 200,000 ultrasound machines in use in the U.S. and Europe and about another 100,000 in the rest of the world. The range of applications where medical ultrasound is used includes evaluating symptoms to determine causes of pain or organ damage following illness, examining internal organs, evaluate pregnancies, check blood flow, to determine abnormalities like tumors, and to guide procedures such as needle biopsies.

Intelligent Ultrasound, set up by the University’s technology transfer company Isis Innovation, has begun to develop software solutions to reduce the risk of incorrect or missed diagnoses and avoid costly, inconvenient rescans.

Isis Innovation is the highest university Patent Cooperation Treaty applicant in Europe, and the 16th highest university applicant in world, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The technology is based on the work of Alison Noble, the Technikos Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the Oxford University Department of Engineering Science. She is a Director of the Biomedical Image Analysis Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research group working in the area of biomedical imaging and image analysis, the hub for biomedical engineering at Oxford.

How It Works

Intelligent Ultrasound’s 3D Fusion ultrasound products uses a software solution to align overlapping 3D ultrasound scans and provide a composite image reconstruction that affords an increased field-of-view and improved anatomical definition when compared to a conventional 3D ultrasound scan. The images are not simply “stitched” together, but are “warped” to correct for shifts in the point of view from which each scan was obtained and then fused using a novel algorithm. 3D Fusion Ultrasound is particularly useful in applications where a transducer’s field-of-view is insufficient to see a complete object or area of interrogation, and when conventional scans are typically below average diagnostic quality and have insufficient contrast/ detail for confident diagnosis.

Professor Noble, explains: “We are combining conventional ultrasound scanning with advanced automated image analysis post-processing to improve the diagnostic quality of scans and ensure that the doctor has the best ultrasound- based information to make a clinical decision.”

“It is perhaps the most exciting time in over 20 years to work in ultrasound research due to the rapid developments in 2D and 3D imaging. My laboratory at Oxford is responding to the clinical pull to dramatically reduce healthcare costs by using cost-effective technology such as ultrasound as an alternative to more costly MRI and CT scanning,” she said.

A recent clinical study in echocardiography showed that use of 3D Fusion Ultrasound increased the number of scans that could be used for clinical diagnosis from 67.2 percent to 95.7 percent of the total. 3D Fusion Ultrasound almost doubled the number of scans graded as being of good quality compared to single, un-fused scans. These improvements in field of view and quality increase the diagnostic power of 3D Fusion Ultrasound scans, whatever the clinical application.

Where It Stands

Fig. 2 — Ultrasound image of fetal brain.

Intelligent Ultrasound was founded by Professor Noble, Dr. Aris Papageorghiou, and CEO Andy Hill. Papageorghiou, the company’s clinical lead, is a consultant obstetrician at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and an expert in the use of ultrasound to monitor fetal development. Hill is an experienced medical technology professional and former CEO with Deltex Medical, a UK-based medical ultrasound company.

The new company will be supported by the NHS National Innovation Centre, which is committed to accelerating the development of innovative technologies likely to deliver significant benefits to patients and the NHS, and has contributed a development award to the company’s fund raising. The company’s other investors include the firm’s founders and the Oxford Invention Fund.

“We expect this software will save the National Health Service (NHS) in excess of £40 million per year in cardiology diagnostics alone,” said Hill.

Colin Callow, Head of the NHS National Innovation Centre, said: “By creating the right environment and infrastructure for collaboration and partnership between industry, academia, and the NHS, the National Innovation Centre can provide access to the expertise necessary to support the rapid development of exciting innovations so that they are truly ‘NHS Market ready’, identifying and solving adoption barriers both technical and organizational – before the product hits the market.”

The first version of the Intelligent Ultrasound software for use in echocardiography is expected to be available for sale within the next few months. Further versions are being developed for stress-echocardiography, obstetrics, and ultrasound-guided surgery.

For more information about Intelligent Ultrasound, visit http://info.hotims.com/40438-165 .