Halifax Chronicle-Herald – Big leap in imaging tiny things; Dalhousie researcher’s ultrasound innovation wins national award

Medical researchers should have more money for actual research because of a Dalhousie University student’s work on a new high-resolution ultrasound probe.

While there are probes available that use electromagnetic motors, Andre Bezanson came up with a way of using piezoelectric actuators instead. They are commonly used for things like the autofocus on digital cameras.

By using them, Bezanson said, the cost of ultrasound equipment for research can be reduced from about $450,000 to $150,000.

The resolution is greater than in devices used for pre-natal ultrasound imaging. Basically, you can image smaller structures,” Bezanson said. “That comes into importance because when drug companies and clinical researchers and lab researchers are trying to study the progression of a disease or a certain type of cancer, they usually do it on mice. But as you can imagine, everything on them is smaller.”

He said that means researchers can end up going through many mice to conduct their research because they don’t have the ability to buy ultrasound machines worth almost half a million dollars.

“They would have to grow these large mice populations of hundreds of mice and systematically kill off a certain section of the population every week, dissect them and look at them under a microscope. It’s very labour-intensive or financially intensive when you have to buy one of these expensive systems.”

Being able to look at high-resolution images also means lower mortality rates for mice because the results can be measured diagnostically rather than having to dissect the animals. 

“You can use a much smaller population and watch what happens to that particular tumour in that mouse,” Bezanson said. “That’s one of the cooler aspects of this, that we might save thousands of mice lives.”

The idea came from a project in one of Bezanson’s instrumentation courses at Dalhousie, where the 26-year-old Harbourville, Kings County, resident is a PhD student in biomedical engineering. The concept of using actuators came from his supervisor.

A Dalhousie cardiac researcher is using the ultrasound to study hearts in mice. The hearts are not only tiny but also beat 10 times faster than a human heart. The device is expected to be launched in other research areas in the coming months.

Bezanson will receive a national award after being nominated by Daxsonics Ultrasound Inc., a state-of-the art ultrasound technology company based at Dalhousie started by some faculty members.

The award is from Mitacs, a private not-for-profit organization that brings companies, government and academia together to promote Canadian research and training,

Bezanson is one of five award winners and was chosen from among thousands of researchers.

Tue Nov 19 2013
Page: A13
Section: New s
Byline: Ian Fairclough