News | September 24, 2014

Ultrasound Enhancement Provides Clarity to Damaged Tendons, Ligaments

Ultrasound Enhancement Provides Clarity to Damaged Tendons, Ligaments

Sabrina Brounts (front), clinical associate professor of large animal surgery, uses ultrasound to gauge how well a Missouri Fox Trotter horse is healing. Photo by Nik Hawkins / Courtesy UW-Madison

September 24, 2014 — An expert in earthquake waves has unearthed the idea that sound waves reflected from human bodies could reveal not only their internal shape but also their condition.

Earthquakes create waves in the earth that are interpreted with seismographs. Medical ultrasound devices make high-frequency waves, and then construct a picture of hidden structures from the echoes. Ray Vanderby, a professor of biomedical engineering and orthopedics and rehabilitation at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is commercializing an ultrasound method to analyze the condition of soft tissue.

About 10 years ago, Vanderby’s Ph.D. student Hirohito Kobayashi, familiar with seismology and earthquakes, “had an analytical insight into the way waves propagate,” Vanderby said. “I work in orthopedics, so we developed equations that describe the physics of sound waves in living tissue,” he said.

Vanderby has patented the resulting processes through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which licensed the technology to Echometrix, a startup that Vanderby and Kobayashi began in 2007. The Echometrix software begins where the ultrasound machine leaves off: by interpreting the image that is the machine’s output. “We can put this software on a laptop and use images from any ultrasound instrument,” said Vanderby.

Conventional ultrasound machines analyze waves that have bounced off a boundary in the body, Vanderby explained. But while ultrasound operators sometimes stretch tissue to get a better picture, the importance of that tactic was not always fully understood. The stretching phenomenon reveals that the intensity of the waves is affected by the condition of the soft tissue. “Waves travel faster in stiff material than in soft material, and the amount of waves that bounce back depends on stiffness, so it was clear that reflected sound was telling us about the stiffness of material,” he said.

In tendons and ligaments, he said, stiffness changes depending on whether the tissue is intact, damaged or healing. “We can measure from the ultrasound image how physically compromised it is,” said Vanderby.

Sabrina Brounts, a clinical associate professor of surgical sciences at the UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, is using the Echometrix technology to study tendon injuries in racehorses.

In 2012, the software was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is being used in human studies to monitor treatment of injuries to hand tendons, the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia in the foot. “In plantar fasciitis, it’s hard to tell whether a treatment is helping,” said Vanderby. By producing images that immediately map and quantify damage, he hopes the Echometrix software can measure the pace of healing and identify the best therapies.

But ligaments and tendons — the meat and potatoes of sports injuries — are not the only applications. “We believe any stressed soft tissue could have the same physical behavior,” Vanderby said. “We could use this same technology to detect a change, for example, in tumors or in atherosclerosis, where stiffness indicates degradation of the blood vessel.”

Although magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment can also image soft tissue, “it’s very expensive, it takes longer and the patient has to be constrained,” said Vanderby. “Ultrasound can be used in a dynamic fashion; you can see how it behaves when the tissue is loaded. It’s cheap and it can be done at the point of care.”

The biggest hurdle at Echometrix, Vanderby said, is speeding up the analysis. “The original software was written by a graduate student for research, and we did not care if it took a while. But we’ve made continual progress in accelerating the analysis.”

For more information: www.wisc.edu

Related Content

Improved Imaging Technique Could Increase Chances of Prostate Cancer Survival
News | Prostate Cancer | August 20, 2019
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately one in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their...
Profound Medical Receives U.S. FDA 510(k) Clearance for Tulsa-Pro
Technology | Interventional Radiology | August 16, 2019
Profound Medical Corp. announced it has received 510(k) clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to...
Digital Health Devices Used at Point of Care May Improve Diagnostic Certainty
News | Cardiovascular Ultrasound | August 05, 2019
A West Virginia-based rural medical outreach event showcased the use of point-of-care technology in an ambulatory...
Studies Confirm Clinical Value of ShearWave Elastography for Liver Fibrosis Evaluation
News | Ultrasound Imaging | July 31, 2019
SuperSonic Imagine announced the publication of the results of its prospective multicentric clinical study conducted in...
Intelligent Ultrasound Group Collaborating With the National Imaging Academy Wales

The ScanTrainer transvaginal simulator is one example of Intelligent Ultrasound's simulation technologies.

News | Ultrasound Imaging | July 26, 2019
Artificial intelligence (AI)-based ultrasound software and simulation company Intelligent Ultrasound Group plc (AIM:...
FDA Clears Koios DS Breast 2.0 AI-based Software
News | Ultrasound Women's Health | July 11, 2019
Koios Medical announced its second 510(k) clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
360 Photos | Ultrasound Imaging | July 11, 2019
This 360 degree photo shows a basic, point-of-care cardiac echocardiogram being performed using a smartphone turned i
360 Photos | Ultrasound Imaging | July 09, 2019
A view of a mitral valve on a GE Healthcare Vivid E95 ...
360 Photos | Ultrasound Imaging | July 08, 2019
This is a 360 degree view of a live cardiac echo demonstration for the Siemens Healthineers Acuson SC2000...