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New Material May Sharpen Ultrasound Images

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A new “metamaterial” may make possible greatly improved ultrasound images, according to the researchers who developed it.

Current ultrasound technology converts reflected ultrasound waves into electrical signals, which have limitations in bandwidth and sensitivity. The new material, consisting of golden nanorods embedded in a type of polymer known as polypyrolle, converts the waves into optical signals.

“We developed a material that would enable optical signal processing of ultrasound,” said Vladislav Yakovlev, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at Texas A&M and lead author of an article about the research published online last week inĀ Advanced Materials. “Nothing like this material exists in nature, so we engineered a material that would provide the properties we needed.”

And those properties are:

It has greater sensitivity and broader bandwidth. We can go from zero to 150 megahertz without sacrificing the sensitivity. Current technology typically experiences a substantial decline in sensitivity around 50 megahertz.

Dr. Yakovlev was quoted in a Texas A&M news release.

“A high bandwidth allows you to sample the change of distance of the acoustic waves with a high precision,” he said. “This translates into an image that shows greater detail. Greater sensitivity enables you to see deeper in tissue, suggesting that we have the potential to generate images that might have previously not been possible with conventional ultrasound technology.”

“Potential” is a key word here. We’re apparently a long way from seeing this deeper penetration and these sharper images in clinical use. The news release cryptically mentions that “Yakovlev’s research is not yet ready for integration into ultrasound technology.”

Still, Dr. Yakovlev, at least, seems to think he and his colleagues have achieved a significant breakthrough.

“This metamaterial can efficiently convert an acoustic wave into an optical signal without limiting the bandwidth of the transducer,” he said, “and its potential biomedical applications represent the first practical implementation of this metamaterial.”

Related seminar: Abdominal & Pelvic Imaging: CT/MR/US

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