3D ultrasound scanner shows brain in-depth

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Biomedical engineers at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering have adapted a three-dimensional ultrasound scanner that might guide minimally invasive brain surgeries and provide better detection of a brain tumor’s location, according to an article published in Ultrasound in Medicine & Biology.

The “brain scope,” which is inserted into a dime-sized hole in the skull, may be particularly useful for the bedside evaluation of critically ill patients when computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment is unavailable, the researchers said. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Brain surgeons now rely primarily on two-dimensional images produced by MRI or ultrasound, said Edward Light, a research and development engineer in the biomedical engineering department at Duke. "The problem is that without 3D, you could miss something," he said. MRI machines are also expensive and require a dedicated space with special surgical tools that can be used in close proximity to the imagers' powerful magnets.

Last year, the Duke team, led by biomedical engineering Professor Stephen Smith, reported the development of a 3D ultrasound device designed for imaging the heart and other internal organs during endoscopic surgeries performed through tiny keyhole incisions about 3 centimeters in diameter. To make the probe more suitable for brain scanning, the researchers shrunk it even further, to fit through a 10 millimeter hole in the skull.

The brain imager also required them to shift the orientation of the ultrasound beam with respect to the probe, he said. Rather than capturing a side view, the brain probe "looks" straight ahead by emitting ultrasound waves like water from a hose. That way, it can produce an image of the brain with just the tip inserted through the skull.