A recipient of European funding, physicist and Inserm researcher Clément Papadacci is developing an ultra-fast ultrasound probe to enable whole-organ micro-vessels to be viewed in 3D. Its initial applications will be dedicated to the study of neurological and cardiac diseases, which until now have been difficult to explore precisely.
Clément Papadacci has recently designed a new type of ultrasound probe. Thanks to its high level of technology and its dimensions – 10 cm by 10 cm – it can obtain sensitivity, resolution and broadness of image that is unlike those offered by conventional ultrasound or other imaging methods. Performed after injecting a contrast medium consisting of stable, biocompatible microbubbles, this 3D imaging should provide a way to visualize the finest vessels (approximately 0.1 mm in diameter) at the scale of whole organs, such as the heart or brain. To make its development a reality, the researcher obtained a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant in 2022.
Observing the Unexplored
Papadacci is already anticipating its first clinical and preclinical applications. For the time being, the focus is on two diseases. « Glioblastoma – a rare brain tumor – needs to be supplied by blood micro-vessels in order to grow. We believe that ultrafast ultrasound imaging could help to identify these vessels and thereby predict early recurrences that occur after surgery. » Also, in the field of cardiology, the researcher wishes to focus on coronary artery microvascular dysfunction: damage to the small blood vessels of the heart which can cause chest pain related to a type of angina pectoris and which cannot be observed by current imaging methods: « By providing clinicians with an initial way to study it accurately, we could help develop dedicated treatments. »
More broadly, the probe developed by Papadacci and his team could represent a technological turning point in the field of imaging. « We can expect this technology to generate a lot of interest in the ultrasound domain. The European funding gives us the opportunity to position ourselves as pioneers in a context of strong international competition. A position that we will have to hold on to! » Currently, the researcher is working on constructing the probe, and on optimizing the algorithms used to acquire and utilize the data it collects. « It is a singular opportunity to have obtained such funding, and only in Europe are so many resources given to a project such as MicroflowLife – which is born out of concepts of fundamental physics, wave physics and optics. »
At the Interface of Physics and Medicine
Such a combination of disciplines is familiar to this physicist, who is an Inserm staff scientist at the Physics for Medicine institute at the École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielle de la ville de Paris. Imbued with the scientific history of this prestigious institution, it was in this « cradle of ultrarapid imaging » that Papadacci began his scientific career, starting with his PhD. « It is a highly dynamic environment with a real vision, situated at the interface of physics research and its medical applications. Its researchers are conducting many joint projects. There is a real team culture, which is very stimulating and one of the key elements for conducting good research. »
While his road appears to be paved with successes, « you should not rest on your laurels », warns Papadacci. Experiencing difficulties is part of the job: « There is one emotional roller coaster after another, especially when an outcome is not what we were expecting. But each difficulty is an opportunity to review our theories and move forward. » While his profession is « sometimes uncomfortable », it is « always creative », and one that he opted for after doing two bachelor’s degrees simultaneously – one in physics and the other in cinema! « Right from my first lab internships, I understood that research would provide me with the means of combining the rigor and complexity of the fundamental discipline with the creativity I was looking for. And MicroflowLife could well be one of the future landmarks in medical imaging.
Clément Papadacci is a researcher at the Physics for Medicine institute (unit 1273 Inserm/CNRS/ESPCI/Paris-PSL) in Paris.
Author: C. G.