Super-Resolution Contrast-Enhanced Ultrasound Methodology for the Identification of In Vivo Vascular Dynamics in 2D

August 2019 – Journal of Investigative Radiology



The aim of this study was to provide an ultrasound-based super-resolution methodology that can be implemented using clinical 2-dimensional ultrasound equipment and standard contrast-enhanced ultrasound modes. In addition, the aim is to achieve this for true-to-life patient imaging conditions, including realistic examination times of a few minutes and adequate image penetration depths that can be used to scan entire organs without sacrificing current super-resolution ultrasound imaging performance.


Standard contrast-enhanced ultrasound was used along with bolus or infusion injections of SonoVue (Bracco, Geneva, Switzerland) microbubble (MB) suspensions. An image analysis methodology, translated from light microscopy algorithms, was developed for use with ultrasound contrast imaging video data. New features that are tailored for ultrasound contrast image data were developed for MB detection and segmentation, so that the algorithm can deal with single and overlapping MBs. The method was tested initially on synthetic data, then with a simple microvessel phantom, and then with in vivo ultrasound contrast video loops from sheep ovaries. Tracks detailing the vascular structure and corresponding velocity map of the sheep ovary were reconstructed. Images acquired from light microscopy, optical projection tomography, and optical coherence tomography were compared with the vasculature network that was revealed in the ultrasound contrast data. The final method was applied to clinical prostate data as a proof of principle.


Features of the ovary identified in optical modalities mentioned previously were also identified in the ultrasound super-resolution density maps. Follicular areas, follicle wall, vessel diameter, and tissue dimensions were very similar. An approximately 8.5-fold resolution gain was demonstrated in vessel width, as vessels of width down to 60 μm were detected and verified (λ = 514 μm). Best agreement was found between ultrasound measurements and optical coherence tomography with 10% difference in the measured vessel widths, whereas ex vivo microscopy measurements were significantly lower by 43% on average. The results were mostly achieved using video loops of under 2-minute duration that included respiratory motion. A feasibility study on a human prostate showed good agreement between density and velocity ultrasound maps with the histological evaluation of the location of a tumor.


The feasibility of a 2-dimensional contrast-enhanced ultrasound-based super-resolution method was demonstrated using in vitro, synthetic and in vivo animal data. The method reduces the examination times to a few minutes using state-of-the-art ultrasound equipment and can provide super-resolution maps for an entire prostate with similar resolution to that achieved in other studies.

Authors: Kanoulas, Evangelos MSc; Butler, Mairead PhD; Rowley, Caitlin BSc; Voulgaridou, Vasiliki MSc; Diamantis, Konstantinos PhD; Duncan, William Colin MBChB, MD, FRCOG MRC; McNeilly, Alan PhD, DSc, FRSB, FRSE MRC; Averkiou, Michalakis PhD; Wijkstra, Hessel PhD; Mischi, Massimo PhD; Wilson, Rhodri Simon PhD, CRUK/MRC; Lu, Weiping PhD; Sboros, Vassilis PhD

Investigative Radiology: August 2019 – Volume 54 – Issue 8 – p 500–516;   doi: 10.1097/RLI.0000000000000565