Innovative Imaging Technology is Focus of Engineer’s Talk

November 06, 2008

Kevin J. Parker, Ph.D., dean emeritus of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, will discuss a novel form of imaging to detect tumors as part of a lecture series highlighting biological and biomedical research at the University of Rochester.

Parker will speak about “elastography,” an emerging imaging field that combines today’s powerful imaging equipment with the unique knowledge usually gained through touch, at 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14, in the Class of 1962 Auditorium at the Medical Center. It’s the latest installment of the “Second Friday Science Social” lecture series geared mainly to faculty, staff and students at the University, though the general public is welcome as well.

In the late 1980s Parker was one of the founders of a discipline now known as elastography. While the imaging hardware in the radiologist’s suite has become more advanced, many basic properties of tissue remain unknown, including whether a lesion is hard or soft. Cancerous tumors are generally much stiffer than surrounding healthy tissue, a feature that is generally not exploited by imaging systems.

Parker will discuss efforts to bring the best of both worlds together, by creating ways to explore the biomechanical properties, such as stiffness, of tissue. The systems generally perturb tissues and then use a method such as ultrasound or MRI to record how the tissues move, revealing a good deal about texture.

Parker has worked closely with Robert Lerner, M.D., and Deborah Rubens, M.D., to develop the technology. Today, research teams and imaging companies are conducting research and clinical trials of elastography techniques in Japan, the United States, and Europe. The systems are being evaluated for use in detecting tumors of the prostate, breast, liver, and thyroid. Other uses include monitoring liver disease, blood clots, brain injuries, and a growing list of biomechanical biomarkers.

“Many tumors can’t be seen without contrast or without some sort of special procedure, and even when they can be seen, there are always questions,” said Parker. “There is a tremendous need for additional information. We’re trying to bring one of the oldest known tools for physicians, the sense of touch, and couple that with the most powerful imaging instruments available today.”

A native of Rochester, Parker received his bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and his doctorate in electrical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is well known as one of the inventors of the Blue Noise Mask, a technology that has been licensed for use in printers and other equipment by more than a dozen companies around the world. The technology grew out of a separate research effort aimed at improving the quality of ultrasound images.

Parker recently stepped down as dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. During his 10-year tenure, the Department of Biomedical Engineering was created, and Goergen Hall was constructed for biomedical engineering and optics. Under Parker’s leadership, the school’s endowment sextupled, thanks in large part to royalties from the Blue Noise Mask.

Parker is a fellow of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, the Acoustical Society of America, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He has been on the University’s faculty since 1981 and is the William F. May Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He holds appointments in Imaging Sciences and Biomedical Engineering as well.

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