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Andrew Needles

Q&A with Andrew Needles, director of marketing and product manager, FUJIFILM VisualSonics

by Gus Iversen , Editor in Chief
Healthcare Business News spoke with Andrew Needles, director of marketing and product manager of FUJIFILM VisualSonics, about high frequency ultrasound, how it enables clinicians to see up to ten times the level of anatomical detail, and why that matters.

HCB News: What is ultra high frequency ultrasound and can you give us a sense of the frequency level we’re talking about?
Andrew Needles: Normal ultrasound is in the range of 1-15 MHz, but with the Vevo high frequency ultrasound systems, transducers can produce frequencies as high as 70 MHz. This enables the identification of structures as small as 30µm. That is a striking resolution for an ultrasound device, and it is enabled by a patented technology for fabricating high frequency transducer arrays.
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HCB News: We understand that the Vevo technology was originally developed for use in the academic research setting, before it was commercialized for clinical use. How did this start, and what enabled the technology?
AN: In the 1980s that there were breakthroughs on copolymer piezoelectric materials capable of producing ultrasound at much higher frequencies. Stuart Foster began working with these materials originally at the Princess Margaret Hospital (which was the Ontario Cancer Institute at the time) in Toronto, Canada. Stuart and his lab prototyped some of the initial high frequency single element transducers. By the early 1990s, Stuart’s Lab had moved to the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and had developed the first practical high frequency laboratory setup capable of capturing high frequency images. From there they went on to prototype some of the initial instruments.

To make a long story short, in 1999 VisualSonics was formed, and Stuart was the founder of the company. Even with commercialization, the system is still used for important academic research.

HCB News: So how does this high frequency translate into the ability to visualize structures, and what subjects were you looking at during the development of the Vevo technology?
AN: When the Vevo technology was developed, we could see from five to ten times greater “sizing” or level of detail than anything that existed commercially at the time. That scaled perfectly with the mouse anatomy which was our first study subject. So a 40 megahertz ultrasound device gave you the resolution that was appropriate to see the tiny little mouse heart, which holding my fingers apart, is about the size of a Tic Tac. With the Vevo technology we could then get down to about 30 micrometers or microns. Just to put it in context, a human hair is somewhere around 80 to 100 microns in diameter. So it's a fraction of that. That would be your smallest resolution. With commercially available clinical ultrasound systems, it was only possible to see somewhere in the range of say 200 to 300 microns. So it’s up to a factor of 10 which is really remarkable.
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