1. The Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University
2. Electrical and Computer Engineering, NC State University
Rationale: Structure and function of the microvasculature provides critical information about disease state, can be used to identify local regions of pathology, and has been shown to be an indicator of response to therapy. Improved methods of assessing the microvasculature with non-invasive imaging modalities such as ultrasound will have an impact in biomedical theranostics. Ultrasound localization microscopy (ULM) is a new technology which allows processing of ultrasound data for visualization of microvasculature at a resolution better than allowed by acoustic diffraction with traditional ultrasound systems. Previous application of this modality in brain imaging has required the use of invasive procedures, such as a craniotomy, skull-thinning, or scalp removal, all of which are not feasible for the purpose of longitudinal studies.
Methods: The impact of ultrasound localization microscopy is expanded using a 1024 channel matrix array ultrasonic transducer, four synchronized programmable ultrasound systems with customized high-performance hardware and software, and high-performance GPUs for processing. The potential of the imaging hardware and processing approaches are demonstrated in-vivo.
Results: Our unique implementation allows asynchronous acquisition and data transfer for uninterrupted data collection at an ultra-high fixed frame rate. Using these methods, the vasculature was imaged using 100,000 volumes continuously at a volume acquisition rate of 500 volumes per second. With ULM, we achieved a resolution of 31 µm, which is a resolution improvement on conventional ultrasound imaging by nearly a factor of ten, in 3-D. This was accomplished while imaging through the intact skull with no scalp removal, which demonstrates the utility of this method for longitudinal studies.
Conclusions: The results demonstrate new capabilities to rapidly image and analyze complex vascular networks in 3-D volume space for structural and functional imaging in disease assessment, targeted therapeutic delivery, monitoring response to therapy, and other theranostic applications.
Keywords: 3-D ultrasound, transducer, microvascular imaging, brain, super resolution