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Software Advances Improve Cardiac Ultrasound Images

Alison Noble (University of Oxford)

Alison Noble (University of Oxford)

Biomedical engineers at University of Oxford in the U.K. developed software that they say enhances the ultrasound image quality of the heart. The original research, funded by the U.K.’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, led to a start-up company to commercialize the technology, which is on display today at the Healthcare Innovation Expo 2013 in London.

Echocardiography is a routine non-invasive diagnostic technique that uses ultrasound to create moving images of the heart to detect any problems with the heart’s chamber or valves. Echocardiogram images, however, have a limited field of view that make it impossible to get a single view of the entire heart in one image, and somewhat limits their ability to diagnose problems.

A team led by biomedical engineering professor Alison Noble (pictured right), director of Oxford’s Biomedical Image Analysis Lab, conducted the research to develop software that generates a composite image of the heart from multiple scans. The image provides a higher-quality diagnostic image, say the developers, often removing the need for additional — and much more costly — MRI or CAT scans.

Noble and colleagues founded a spin-off company last year called Intelligent Ultrasound to take the software to market. The software, called intelligent data fusion or IDF Echo, was tested by clinical groups in Oxford, and is available for evaluation by other National Health Service (NHS) hospitals. IDF Echo, which was designed to work with current ultrasound equipment, is also available for ultrasound hardware manufacturers to incorporate in their machines.

“Although ultrasound is a very well-established, cost-effective medical scanning technology, there’s a limit to the quality of image it can generate,” says Noble. “By improving the initial diagnostic power of ultrasound, IDF Echo improves the likelihood of earlier diagnosis and quicker treatment for the patient, and has the potential to help NHS budgets by extracting maximum value from low-cost scanning equipment.”

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