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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T008970/1
Title: Fast 3D Super-Resolution Ultrasound Imaging Through Acoustic Activation and Deactivation of Nanodroplets
Principal Investigator: Tang, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Dunsby, Professor C Weinberg, Professor PD
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
The Rosalind Franklin Institute
Department: Bioengineering
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 06 April 2020 Ends: 04 October 2023 Value (£): 963,777
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Computer Graphics & Visual. Medical Imaging
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
17 Oct 2019 HT Investigator-led Panel Meeting - October 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The microvasculature plays a crucial role in the functioning of healthy tissue throughout the body. Tumours and many other diseases, such as diabetes and coronary heart disease, cause changes in the distribution of microvessels and/or the flow within them. Detection of subtle structural and functional changes in these vessels would thus potentially enable early detection of cancer and other diseases and increase the chances of successful treatment and survival rates. Furthermore, by detecting changes in the microvasculature during treatment of these diseases, doctors may be able to identify at an early stage patient-specific treatment strategies while monitoring responses (or the lack of response) to different drugs. Current clinical imaging modalities cannot adequately resolve these tiny vessels beyond depths of a few millimetres inside the tissue. Hence there is an urgent clinical need for a new imaging method that can provide high spatial and temporal resolution at relevant tissue depths.

Optical super-resolution has revolutionised the field of optical florescence microscopy by combining information from multiple frames to achieve a single super-resolved image and was the subject of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. However, such optical techniques only have a limited penetration depth (<1 mm) and are therefore not suitable for imaging humans in the clinic. We have developed ultrasound super-resolution imaging with contrast agents (microbubbles) with a resolution of several times better than existing clinical ultrasound imaging (down to tens of micrometres resolution at depths of several centimetres). However this approach currently requires long ultrasound data acquisition times (minutes) as time must be allowed for sparsely distributed flowing agents to traverse the full field of view. It is also challenging to image the vasculature in 3D using this approach due to the huge amount of data generated (up to TBs per second) that poses significant hardware challenges in transferring and processing such data. These shortcomings significantly limit the clinical translation of super-resolution ultrasound.

In this project, we are proposing a new technology to enable super-resolution at imaging rates up to two orders of magnitude faster than is currently possible, thereby making it becomes suitable for clinical use. To achieve this, we will replace conventional microbubble contrast agents with new "nanodroplet" agents whose in vivo imaging signal can be switched on and off acoustically in a controlled way, removing the need to use low concentrations and wait for them to flow through the entire region of interest. Second, we will use a new transducer technology with more than ten thousand elements linked in a specific way for 3D imaging that will enable rapid data capture. We will also develop optimised and fast signal processing algorithms and codes that will enable accurate super-resolution imaging and live feedback suitable for practical use. We aim to be the first to demonstrate this fast 3D super-resolution technology in vivo.

The proposed technique promises non-invasive, safe and fast microscopic assessment of vasculature in deep tissue, which could prove highly valuable to diagnosis, prediction, and intervention in a wide range of diseases.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk