SURE

The SURE project, "3D Super resolution Ultrasound Real time imaging of Erythrocytes", is funded by an ERC Synergy grant. The project will develop and research a new super resolution ultrasound imaging method capable of resolving 3D capillary flow in the human body. 

The approach tracks the motion of the individual red blood cells (erythrocytes) in a three-dimensional volume for a full visualization of anatomy, flow, and perfusion in a volume down to approximately 13 cm at a rate of 20 volumes per second.

The SURE imaging approach aims to yield a paradigm shift in the scientific study, diagnoses, and treatment of cancer, diabetes, and vascular diseases at the capillary level, as it enables the possibility of volumetric visualizing capillary perfusion in real-time at frame rates above 20 Hz without injection of contrast agents.  Imaging is performed using ultrasound at normal diagnostic levels with no known adverse effects and can, thus, be used on a wide range of the population from newborns to the elderly for both diagnosis and repeated screening.

The super resolution imaging is performed without using contrast agents and is thereby expected to be several thousand times faster than current methods. The method is expected to have an isotropic resolution of 50 micrometer in all directions, and the smallest details visible is thereby 100-400 times smaller volumetrically than current state-of-the-art 3D ultrasound imaging. Using deep learning is expected to further advance detection of targets making a resolution of 10 micrometer possible in flow measurements. These highly ambitious goals can only be attained in a synergistic research effort, and therefore the SURE project combines knowledge from several research groups.

The scientific project includes breakthroughs in silicon row-column probes with high element count, advanced synthetic aperture ultrafast coded imaging, deep learning for detecting and tracking of cells, pressure gradient estimation, and visualization and quantification of several hundreds of Gbytes volumetric data. The research finally leads to clinical trials conducted on rodents and humans for studying the changes in perfusion for diabetes and cancer and reveal the efficacy of SURE.

The role of the MEMS group in this project is to research and develop the advanced CMUT probes needed for the project. To achieve a resolution high enough to track individual erythrocytes it is estimated that these RCA probes will be required to have 1000 rows and 1000 columns and making such a transducer is a formidable task. However, based on long experience in working with MEMS and transferring MEMS technologies to production and to clinical research combined with the excellent facilities at DTU (e.g. the DTU Nanolab cleanroom, the SARUS research scanner at CFU, access to high performance computing, and the MEMS laboratory)  we feel confident that it is realistic, although difficult, to achieve this ambitious goal.