Ultrasonic arrays for ultrahigh resolution real time biomedical imaging

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee
Department Name: Electronic Engineering and Physics


The project involves collaborative, multidisciplinary work combining materials research, device design, and medically-oriented testing to create ultrasonic arrays capable of ultrahigh resolution biomedical imaging in real time. Real-time ultrasonic imaging is a safe, inexpensive and convenient technique which accounts for approximately 20% of all hospital imaging examinations. However, spatial resolution is ultimately limited by maximum frequency and existing ultrahigh resolution systems are based on mechanically-scanned single-element transducers. Such systems demonstrate the need for increased resolution but at the same time limit progress because they cannot be used in real time. For this, ultrasonic arrays are needed which can operate at frequencies higher than the present maximum of ~30 MHz. However, it has so far been impossible to produce such arrays.Piezocomposite materials, comprising ceramic pillars in a polymer matrix, are now state-of-the-art in commercial ultrasonic imaging systems, with higher electromechanical coupling, better acoustic impedance matching to biological tissue, and better electrical properties than piezoceramics alone, leading in turn to wider intrinsic bandwidth and higher sensitivity. In addition, reduced lateral coupling means that multi-element arrays can be defined from monolithic piezocomposite plates. However, difficulties manufacturing material with micron-scale dimensions has blocked adoption in high frequency ultrasonic transducers and arrays. In the research programme being proposed, ultrasonic arrays will be created to operate for the first time at frequencies potentially as high as 100 MHz, suitable for ultrahigh resolution imaging in real time. The key to this advance will be the ultrafine scale piezocomposites we will produce with optimised net shape ceramic processing technology, in combination with state-of-the-art composite design. This will be a major step forward in enabling real time biomedical ultrasonic imaging at presently impossible frequencies, ultimately allowing new understanding and better diagnosis of a range of medical conditions in areas such as dermatology, ophthalmology, small parts cancers, dentistry, and the cardiovascular system, sometimes in intralumenal configurations.


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Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/D058961/1 14/05/2006 22/09/2007 £298,268
EP/D058961/2 Transfer EP/D058961/1 01/11/2007 31/12/2009 £198,915
Description Medical ultrasound imaging is widely used for diagnosis in healthcare. However, technical constraints limit conventional devices to relatively large sections of human anatomy and to relatively thick tissue. Physically much smaller devices are needed to work with smaller sections and thinner tissue. Unfortunately, means to manufacture such miniature devices are limited.

This grant set out to explore a new technique for miniature ultrasound device manufacturing, using a moulding process for the ceramic components that are essential. The different variations on the moulding process that were developed were successful and the world's smallest contemporary ultrasonically-active ceramic structures were created. These were tested and demonstrated imaging very small artificial targets, cancer in a small animal ex vivo, and dental conditions including caries and erosion.
Exploitation Route The devices that were created were optimised for healthcare diagnosis. They may also find applications in the measurement of thin layers in industrial manufacturing and in non-destructive evaluation.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Electronics,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL http://www.afm-ltd.com
Description The findings from this work have been the foundation for further extensive research aimed at clinical applications, specifically EP/K034537/1 (Sonopill) and EP/K020250/1 (Ultrasound in a needle). They have also contributed very significantly to the work of a spin-out company, Applied Functional Materials Ltd, Edgbaston, Birmingham and have provided intellectual underpinning for many separate research degrees and established company interaction.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Electronics,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Societal,Economic