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NASA Technology May Enhance Mammograms

October 19, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging, Diagnostic Imaging
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NASA software originally developed for analyzing satellite images of Earth may now help radiologists analyze mammograms and other medical images.

The computer algorithm that forms the heart of the MED-SEG system can group similar parts of an image together. For example, on a satellite image, all lakes might show up in one way, all roads in another, and so on.

With a mammogram, MED-SEG can sort different types of tissues. “Trained professionals can use the MED-SEG system to separate two-dimensional images into digitally related sections or regions that, after colorization, can be individually labeled by the user,” said Fitz Walker, president and CEO of Bartron Medical Imaging, which developed the system. Walker was quoted in a NASA news release.

NASA engineer James C. Tilton, PhD, created the algorithm. “My original concept was geared to Earth science,” he told ScienceDaily. “I never thought it would be used for medical imaging.”

In fact, he said, he was skeptical until he processed cell images and was able to see details that had not been visible in the unprocessed images. “The cell features stood out real clearly,” Dr. Tilton said, “and thisĀ  made me realize that Bartron was on to something.”

The system works with any kind of digital image, including ultrasounds, digital X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the system for trained professionals to process images, though the processed images are not supposed to be used for primary diagnosis.

“The use of this computer-based technology could minimize human error that occurs when evaluating radiologic films and might allow for earlier detection of abnormalities within the tissue being imaged,” said Thomas Rutherford, MD, PhD, director of gynecologic oncology at Yale University.

Molly Brewer, MD, of the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, said she would like to do clinical trials on using the MED-SEG system with mammography as a breast cancer diagnostic tool.

“The MED-SEG processes the image, allowing a doctor to see a lot more detail in a more quantitative way,” Dr. Brewer said. “This new software could save patients a lot of money by reducing the number of costly and unnecessary tests.”

Related seminar: Pittsburgh Breast Imaging Seminar

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