The University Record, February 20, 1996

EECS Prof. Ebbini awarded $50,000 for ultrasound research

By Jared Blank

Emad S. Ebbini, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, has received a $50,000 grant from an anonymous donor to improve current ultrasound imaging technologies. The competition was open to faculty who have received National Science Foundation Young Investigator awards and are in the early stages of their careers.

Ebbini is working to develop real-time, three-dimensional imaging using ultrasound, which he hopes will be used by surgeons and for cardiac imaging.

"Current technology has fundamental barriers against allowing true real-time, 3-D imaging, " Ebbini says. "Ultrasound now can only produce quasi-real-time three-dimensional images---it can only produce five or six frames per second and only of a very limited area. The main limitation on current technology is imposed by the finite speed of sound and the need to acquire the image one line at a time. We are working to reformulate the ultrasonic imaging process to avoid these barriers."

Most ultrasound imaging systems achieve high resolution images by transmitting and receiving single beams that are aimed at the intended object. The speed that sound travels through the object being imaged limits the amount of information the ultrasound can record. One frame of a two-dimensional ultrasound image is typically composed of 96­160 lines. For 3-D imaging, however, an image frame is composed of nearly 10,000 lines. It is impossible to form a real-time image of tissue if the ultrasound machine cannot send and receive more than one beam at a time.

To circumvent this limitation, Ebbini will attempt a "parallel processing" technique. He hopes to emit fewer, specifically directed ultrasonic beams which will all be processed at the same time. The reduction in superfluous beams will allow the machine to analyze the ultrasound more efficiently.

Ebbini envisions many medical uses for the new technology. "I believe the 3-D technology will be used for improved cardiac imaging," he says. "Cardiac surgeons will be able to view larger areas, with a higher resolution than they can see now. Currently, doctors base most of their diagnostic decisions on mental 3-D conceptualizations that they form by viewing multiple 2-D ultrasound images. The new imaging system could reduce the uncertainity in the diagnostic decision."

Ultimately, Ebbini would like to combine the 3-D technology with another of his projects---performing "non -invasive" surgery using a highly focused ultrasound beam. Surgeons could then work without cutting into a person. "The two technologies could be used together for cancerous tumor visualization and removal," he says. "With the 3-D imaging, the surgeon could see a clear image of the tumor, then remove it with the high-intensity focused ultrasound technique.

"There are lots of other applications that are just waiting to be addressed."