One of Europe's leading pioneers in the field of medical image analysis has been awarded the €250,000 Royal Society and Académie des sciences Microsoft award to apply computational techniques to build composite three-dimensional images of hearts, brains and other organs from the 2D slices obtained with MRI and PET.
Microsoft sponsors prestigious award for European research
While magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) are highly sensitive techniques, they share one limitation with their forerunner, X-rays: they provide only a two-dimensional picture.
Such a slice through a damaged heart muscle say, or a brain tumour, can indicate the presence of disease, but it cannot show its full extent, or prepare surgeons for what they will encounter when they operate to remove, or repair, suspect tissue.
The prize money will allow this year's award winner, Professor Nicholas Ayache from INRIA (the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control), to develop a virtual patient simulator, providing a template for clinicians to create 3D models of diseased hearts or brain tumors as they are manifest in individual patients. Such models could inform diagnosis and be used to plan surgery.
The work builds on Asclepios (Analysis and Simulation of Biomedical Images), a project set up by Professor Ayache to develop computer models of human anatomy and physiology as an aid to interpreting medical images, including MRI and PET scans.
The goal is to take images of an individual patient and create a personal on-screen model of their organs and pathologies. “The medical objective is to make this virtual patient model realistic enough to increase the potential for early diagnosis and also to plan and simulate treatment strategies to select the most efficient one,” said Professor Ayache, Director of Research at INRIA.
The award will enable Ayache to heighten the realism and increase the speed of generating certain of the computer models developed under Asclepios.
Professor Denis Weaire FRS, Chair of the judging panel said Professor Ayache's models “promise to radically improve diagnosis and treatment.”
For Dr Andrew Herbert, Head of Microsoft Research Cambridge, the significance of Professor Ayache's work rests in the way it marries computation to surgery and medicine. “It's an impressive example of the vital role computer science can play in helping us to tackle some of the world's most pressing challenges,” he said.