Oxford researchers develop heart imaging technique

A team of biomedical engineers and cardiologists from Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science and Department of Cardiovascular Medicine has developed a way of merging 3D data from ultrasound transducers placed in different positions on a patient’s body.

The new way of combining ultrasound images can result in sharper, better quality 3D images of the heart to help doctors make a diagnosis.

The technique aims to improve on the images from conventional 3D echocardiography, which is not yet routinely used − partly because of problems with the quality of images produced and difficulties in imaging the whole heart.

The team’s method is based on matching similar-looking voxels − or volumetric picture elements − of data from the different transducers and then calculating the ’best fit’ of a sequence of individual frames. This alignment is then applied first across ’downgraded’ low-resolution images before these are ’upgraded’ again to their original high resolution, which saves computation time.

’For the first time we’ve shown, in a detailed clinical study, how fusion of 3D data from different positions can improve the quality and completeness of the final image,’ said Prof Alison Noble from the Department of Engineering Science.

Prof Harald Becher of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine added: ’Our new technique saw significant improvements in the general image quality and the definition of features within the heart, which should make it possible to spot even small abnormalities in, for example, the motion of the heart wall.’

While preliminary results are encouraging, further studies are needed with larger groups of patients. The researchers hope their approach could lead to a greater use of 3D echocardiography in the future and are currently looking at how it could be combined with other heart-imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging.