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Developments in Medical Imaging

January 10, 2024

Complex computer vision products and software have been used in medical imaging for decades but the scale at which these are developing is unprecedented. Here, we take a look at some examples of how imaging for medical applications is enabling superior healthcare across the globe.

Traditional imaging techniques for novel applications

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a medical imaging technique that uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to generate detailed images of the internal structures of the body. MRI is particularly useful for imaging soft tissues like the brain, spinal cord, muscles and joints. Functional MRI (fMRI) measures and maps brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow and oxygenation and analyzing these changes. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have been using the technique to gain better understanding of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in the hope that more appropriate therapies may result.

OCD is a mental health condition characterized by persistent, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) performed to alleviate anxiety or prevent a feared event. fMRI experiments have been able to highlight that the decision-making parts of the brain often function abnormally in OCD sufferers, making it harder for them to draw conclusions and act decisively. Therefore, therapy directed at processing uncertainty may be beneficial.

Another established imaging technique is Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). This is a non-invasive medical imaging technique that uses light waves to create high-resolution cross-sectional images of biological tissues and is used commonly in ophthalmology for imaging the retina. A team comprised of researchers from UCL and Moorfields Eye Hospital in the UK have published a study which suggests that markers of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the progressive loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain, can be identified in eye scans several years before formal diagnosis.

OCT works by measuring the echo time delay and intensity of backscattered light, allowing for precise visualization of tissue layers and structures. It is a unique method of imaging layers of cells below the skin’s surface non-invasively. In this study, analyzed data from large numbers of scans from Moorfields’ AlzEye dataset and a control dataset confirmed that a significantly thinner ganglion cell–inner plexiform layer (GCIPL) as well as a thinner inner nuclear layer (INL) of the retina was associated with increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Adapting industrial techniques for medical imaging

Line scan imaging, widely used throughout industrial inspection, hasn’t generally been associated with medical imaging – until now. Line scan imaging uses a single-row array of sensors to scan the subject one line at a time, recording visual data sequentially along a narrow path. The collected lines are then stitched together to create a complete image.

Researchers at Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic have developed a line scan device specifically for imaging the fingers, hand and even arm. This IMVE article explains the device in detail but results should be able to examine skin conditions such as eczema and monitor anomalies and growths.

Another technique used increasingly in industrial inspection is Short-Wave Infrared (SWIR) imaging. This method allows inspection of materials that interact differently with SWIR light compared to visible light, allowing for the identification of specific materials or the analysis of their composition.

Scientists at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health have trialed using SWIR fluorescence to improve the quality of images to distinguish between cancerous tumors and healthy tissue during pre-clinical tests. SWIR has been found to enhance the quality of molecular images in real time, and may in future be used during procedures to help surgeons remove cancerous tissue more precisely.

The inevitable rise of AI to progress medical imaging

The medical sector is among one of many benefiting from massive global investment in AI. With healthcare professionals under increasing pressure, there are clear advantages to applying advanced machine learning and AI techniques to collating and analyzing medical data.

In the crusade against colon cancer, AI is being blended with infrared imaging to help create more effective therapies. In order to tailor therapies to individuals to deliver the very best outcomes, very accurate diagnoses are required. A team from the Center for Protein Diagnostics (PRODI) at Ruhr University Bochum have used infrared imaging to measure the genomic and proteomic composition of tissue to provide information at the molecular level and applied AI to determine the microsatellite status, that is, to identify whether a patient will respond positively to immunotherapy. This process has been developed to give results in about an hour, saving a huge amount of time compared to traditional immunostaining methods, and enabling treatment to begin sooner.

Dracula is the name given to a Deep Radial Convolutional Neural Network developed by The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to improve and accelerate the delivery of radiation therapy. The algorithm reconstructs MRI images of moving tumors, allowing radiation treatment to be targeted at cancerous tissue while avoiding healthy organs, even during the respiratory phase (i.e. when the patient’s breathing causes movement).

The required reconstruction of 4D MRI images takes less than a minute with Dracula, compared to the previous methods which took several hours. The results mean that higher doses of radiation can safely be delivered directly to the tumor with lower risk of damaging surrounding tissue.

Experts in designing computer vision products for medical applications

At Active Silicon, our embedded systems, frame grabbers and autofocus-zoom cameras are all used in medical imaging applications, from ophthalmology to cancer treatment. We understand the importance of high-quality images delivered in real-time in products that will operate reliably for many years. Take a look at what we’ve done in the past for the medical sector, and contact us to see how we can assist your imaging application.