UR Researchers Form New Company to Develop Breakthrough Medical Imaging Technology

March 26, 2001

A collaboration among researchers in UR's engineering school and medical school has led to a breakthrough that can turn ordinary CT or MRI scans into three-dimensional, color computer models of organs and other structures within the body. The images can provide previously unobtainable information about the progression of diseases such as cancer, osteoarthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

The researchers have launched a new company, VirtualScopics, LLC, to bring the new technology to market.

VirtualScopics emerged from more than a decade of work by UR radiologist and researcher Saara Totterman, M.D., Ph.D. In the mid-1990s Totterman began a collaboration with Kevin Parker, Ph.D., who is now Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at UR, and the pair were later joined by researchers Jose Tamez-Pena, Ph.D and Edward Ashton, Ph.D. Together the group has developed computer software that can analyze digital information obtained from CT and MRI scans. The analysis produces 3-D images that can be manipulated to reveal information not readily obtainable from the CT or MRI scans themselves.

For example, while an MRI scan can reveal the location and approximate size of a cancerous brain tumor, the VirtualScopics software can produce a 3-D image of the tumor's position within the brain, and in seconds it can measure the precise volume of the tumor to within two percent accuracy. Analysis of a follow-up MRI scan taken weeks later can determine whether the tumor is shrinking in response to treatment.

The technique can also be used to gauge the progression of osteoarthritis. By analyzing the data from an MRI scan of a patient's arthritic knee, the amount of cartilage worn away by arthritis can be quickly and accurately measured. Analysis of a follow-up MRI scan taken months later can reveal whether the arthritis is progressing, and if so how quickly.

The software that carries out the analyses relies on complex mathematical algorithms developed by Tamez-Pena, a research scientist in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Ashton, an assistant professor of Radiology. The University has been awarded one patent pertaining to the technology, and other patents are pending. The technology has been licensed to VirtualScopics, which is currently refining the software and conducting further research that will be necessary to receive FDA approval for its use in the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

In addition to its potential use in hospitals and radiology practices, the software has important applications in the $30 billion drug research market. Because it can accurately gauge minute changes in the body's tissues - such as the growth or shrinkage of tumors, and the erosion of joint cartilage due to arthritis - the software can be invaluable in determining whether new drugs are effective in the treatment of cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and other illnesses.

"The software can quickly reveal whether a new drug is effective in treating patients," said Totterman. "This potentially could shave one to two years off of the time it takes a pharmaceutical company to bring a new drug to market."

VirtualScopics is the fourth new medical company started by UR scientists in the past three years. The firm joins Vaccinex, R-Tek Medical Systems, and Socratech in a recent wave of UR spin-offs that have been established to commercialize medical inventions or innovations made by UR researchers.

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