Measuring Blood Vessel "Bendiness"

Thyroid cancer detected with acoustic angiography

(RxWiki News) Have you ever heard of the word "bendiness?" We have not either. Yet scientists are using this term to describe the twists and turns of blood vessels, because too much bendiness may mean a serious bend in one's health.

Vessel bendiness can be an indicator that cancer has either arrived or is progressing. Imaging these changes could offer an inexpensive way to detect tiny tumors.

"Mind the bendiness in your vessels - eat right and exercise."

By the way, the medical term for bendiness is "tortuosity," and researchers at the University of North Carolina are using high definition ultrasound to spot tumors less than a centimeter in size.

Paul Dayton, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering said, "The correlation between vessel tortuosity and cancer is well established. What's new about our finding is that we can visualize these vessels in minutes with a very quick scan, using very inexpensive imaging methods," said Dr. Dayton, who is a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The method used by researchers is called "acoustic angiography." With the use of a contrast material, the technology is able to image only the blood vessels in animal models.

"Unlike current clinical 'grayscale' ultrasound, this method filters out all tissue signals, so we can see small blood vessels clearly." Dayton said.

"Our results showed a definitive difference between vessels within and surrounding tumors versus those associated with normal healthy vasculature," he said.

The imaging technology is currently limited to tumors that are close to the skin's surface. So it has been useful in detecting thyroid cancer and melanomas in mice.

The researchers plan to explore extending its imaging depth, and determine if acoustic angiography can be used to evaluate tumor response to treatment.

According to Dr. Dayton, blood vessels can unbend and return to normal in response to effective therapy.

He said, "We need to see if our inexpensive ultrasound-based method of blood vessel visualization and tortuosity analysis can detect this normalization prior to conventional assessments of tumor response to therapy, such as measurements of tumor size."

This study was published in the July 6 issue of the journal Radiology.

The research was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program and a pilot grant from UNC Lineberger, which is supported by private donations.

The authors disclosed no potential conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
July 31, 2012