Healthcare imaging technology provides superior performance at lower cost

Oxford Electromagnetic Acoustic Imaging (OxEMA) is a patented healthcare imaging technology offering superior diagnostic power to conventional ultrasound systems and MRI-like images. Research carried out by the Department of Engineering Science and led by Professor David Edwards indicates that OxEMA has the potential to enable better, earlier diagnosis of numerous conditions and tumours, including some or all of breast, liver, kidney and thyroid cancer, as well as having applications in orthopaedics and other clinical areas.

Recent results from the Department demonstrate that OxEMA clearly identifies artificially introduced abnormalities (mimicking a stone and tumours), in a sheep’s kidney, which are not clearly differentiated using conventional ultrasound.

OxEMA scan identifies artificially introduced abnormalities (mimicking a stone and tumours) in a sheep's kidney
From left to right:
(i) Section through a sheep’s kidney, into which a calcium carbonate nodule has been inserted as a proxy for a kidney stone or vascularised tumour – location shown by red ring.
(ii) The same section, with a registered ultrasound image superposed – the nodule can be seen, but is not differentiated from other features in the kidney.
(iii) The same section, with the ultrasound and OxEMA scan superposed. The different electrical properties of the anomaly stand out extremely clearly in the OxEMA scan as a brightly coloured area of relatively high permittivity and conductivity.

OxEMA’s technology uses a unique, innovative combination of electro-magnetic and acoustic waves in order to create medical images at a cost comparable to ultrasound. The benefits of this are much greater clarity of image and unparalleled tissue-type characterisation in this price bracket. The technology is non-ionising and offers a clear benefit over x-ray and CT scanning. The technology provides the ability to discriminate different electrical and mechanical properties of a tissue in a way not available from any current imaging technology, which will potentially radically improve the identification of tumours and any other anomalous tissue characteristics. The imaging capabilities will initially be made available as an additional feature on a system which operates with a similar user interface to current ultrasound machines.

Professor David Edwards said: “OxEMA has the capability of producing MRI-like images because it utilises the electromagnetic properties of tissue as the contrast mechanism. However, in combination with ultrasound we can achieve images of high spatial resolution without the use of large expensive magnets, keeping the size and cost of the system much lower than MRI. It also has the important advantage of being a non-ionising technology reducing the radiation exposure for the patient. Using the electromagnetic signature of the identified targets, the technology has the potential to be used in the classification and identification of specific tissue types. We are now working towards building an imaging system that can be used in a clinical environment”.

OxEMA is a proposed Isis spinout company seeking investment to take patented OxEMA technology through its initial critical clinical, engineering and regulatory stages. OxEMA is envisaged to have potential non-medical applications which make it even more attractive.

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