A report from the Langevin Institute for Waves and Images in Paris, home to Inserm’s Accelerator of Technological Research (ART) dedicated to biomedical ultrasound. See biomedical ultrasound in action, with four examples of research currently performed at the institute!

Welcome to Inserm’s first Accelerator of Technological Research (ART)! Inaugurated in October 2016 and devoted to biomedical ultrasound, it is an unlikely setting: physicists specialized in acoustics, biologists, and clinicians rub shoulders with the engineers who help transform their ideas into new and very real technologies. "The innovations developed at the ART have been designed to be transferred to other laboratory or hospital settings," explains Mickaël Tanter*, Director of the ART and Wave Physics for Medicine team at the Langevin Institute for Waves and Images in Paris.

  • With its 500 emitters, this ultrasound helmet is the centerpiece of the Ultrabrain project. Developed in partnership with the Brain & Spine Institute (ICM), it is used to focus an ultrasound beam on a specific point in the brain, while correcting distortions caused by the bone structure of the skull!
    © Inserm/François Guénet
  • Mickaël Tanter coordinates the ART. A physicist, he now directs this exceptional site where scientists imagine the medical needs of the future in terms of imaging and ultrasound treatment, and where engineers design and produce essential parts for these tools in workshops on a par with FabLabs, these new spaces in which creativity and production abound.
    © Inserm/François Guénet
  • The ART is housed on the premises of the prestigious École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la Ville de Paris, in the heart of Paris.
    © Inserm/François Guénet
  • With this technology, the ultrasounds are targeted at a specific area, in this example an artificial breast known as a "breast phantom". First they are used to create mechanical vibration in the tissues, following which the machine switches to an ultrafast imaging mode (several thousand images per second) to visualize the propagation of the vibration within the organ. Depending on their elasticity, the tissues do not react in the same way. Tumors can therefore be identified effectively by means of tissue hardness mapping – and are shown by the red spot on the screen.
    © Inserm/François Guénet
  • In the animal research room, physicist Alexandre Dizeux emits ultrasounds onto a sedated mouse. On the screen, the researchers visualize and monitor the impact on the tissues, notably to evaluate whether they could be used to treat certain diseases, in combination with active substances. The technology, ultrafast 2D ultrasound, uses an AirExplorer® machine, commercialized by Supersonic Imagine, one of the laboratory’s industrial success stories.
    © Inserm/François Guénet
  • In the animal research room, physicist Alexandre Dizeux emits ultrasounds onto a sedated mouse. On the screen, the researchers visualize and monitor the impact on the tissues, notably to evaluate whether they could be used to treat certain diseases, in combination with active substances. The technology, ultrafast 2D ultrasound, uses an AirExplorer® machine, commercialized by Supersonic Imagine, one of the laboratory’s industrial success stories.
    © Inserm/François Guénet
  • In the animal research room, physicist Alexandre Dizeux emits ultrasounds onto a sedated mouse. On the screen, the researchers visualize and monitor the impact on the tissues, notably to evaluate whether they could be used to treat certain diseases, in combination with active substances. The technology, ultrafast 2D ultrasound, uses an AirExplorer® machine, commercialized by Supersonic Imagine, one of the laboratory’s industrial success stories.
    © Inserm/François Guénet
  • How is it possible to reach very specific small areas in the brain? Aided by its 500 ultrasound emitters, the Ultrabrain machine, developed by physicist Jean-François Aubry (in the middle, standing), can generate a beam which, within a few seconds, brings the target area temperature to 60°C, causing tissue necrosis. It can be used to treat certain diseases well known for their cerebral origin, such as essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease, some forms of epilepsy, and brain tumors.
    © Inserm/François Guénet
  • How about visualizing rat brain vasculature in 3D and in real time? The ultrafast 3D ultrasound has done it! Still in development for the moment, this technique uses probes made up of thousands of ultrasound emitters to issue very rapid ultrasound. And the cherry on the cake: full 3D imaging of the living vascular system of the brain in just one cardiac cycle (in red, on the screen).
    © Inserm/François Guénet

The research performed at this structure focuses on biomedical ultrasound, which in itself is nothing new. It is already being used in conventional Doppler ultrasound, for example. The difference here, however, is that it is used to its utmost potential. "Our researchers have, for example, developed an innovative method, called fUltrasound (functional ultrasound brain imaging), which makes it possible to visualize the small vessels of the brain and their modifications with excellent resolution in time and space, offering an efficient and complementary approach to functional MRI or positron-emission tomography, an imaging technique that rebuilds volume using slices of an object, such as the brain." Miniature brain activity imaging devices or systems for the remote delivery or activation of drugs to tumors under perfectly controlled conditions, instruments capable of treating regions of the brain without surgery, portable smart sensors to measure the body’s functional parameters, etc.

The innovations in development at the ART keep on coming and are set to revolutionize the treatment of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, as well as the neurosciences more generally, in the very near future. See biomedical ultrasound in action, with four examples of research currently performed at the institute!

*Inserm/CNRS/ESPCI/Université Denis Diderot/Université Pierre et Marie Curie Unit 979

Find the report in issue 34 of Science&Santé magazine (in French)