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November 25, 1996

UW and Siemens develop diagnostic breakthrough with new programmable ultrasound imaging technology

SEATTLE, Wash — A powerful new technology that allows ultrasound medical imaging systems for the first time to be programmed for multiple diagnostic applications was unveiled today by collaborating engineers from Siemens Ultrasound and the University of Washington.

The breakthrough, a programmable image processor, adds the power of a supercomputer to an ultrasound imaging system and provides the ability to use software instead of hardware to develop new diagnostic applications. The result will be clinical applications developed more quickly and cost effectively.

The ultrasound image processor, jointly developed by the UW Image Computing Systems Laboratory and by Siemens Ultrasound Group, can perform more than four billion operations per second and matches the power of 40 high-end Pentium processors. It uses powerful programmable hardware technology and software functions conceived and developed by Yongmin Kim, UW professor of electrical engineering, and his research team.

“The image processor can be programmed for many applications, opening a new chapter in ultrasound technology,” Yongmin Kim said.

The Siemens engineering team, led by Jin Kim, vice president of research and development, integrated the ultrasound image processor into the Siemens SONOLINE Elegra system. His team, working with ultrasound technicians, created the first application, SieScape imaging, which was demonstrated today at a joint press conference on the UW campus.

Lothar Koob, Siemens Ultrasound Group vice president, stated, “This technology will significantly decrease the amount of time and cost involved in moving an idea for a new ultrasound imaging application into the clinical setting where it can help in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. This is a fundamental shift for the ultrasound industry.”

Programmed to run on the image processor, SieScape imaging dramatically increases the field of view in ultrasound by displaying panoramic pictures of internal organs and their surroundings. The power of the ultrasound image processor allows this to happen in real time.

“It’s like looking into a room through an open doorway rather than through a keyhole,” said Dr. Tom Winter, associate professor of radiology and director of ultrasound at the UW Medical Center. “This is an outstanding tool for diagnosis and for communicating results, because it’s so much easier for physicians to conceptualize the anatomy with the extended field of view provided by this system.”

Yongmin Kim’s research group received seed funding for the project from the Washington Technology Center, a state-funded technology-development agency that supports research partnerships between Washington businesses and universities. The Siemens and UW teams — consisting of more than 30 clinicians, engineers, scientists and students — began their collaboration in 1992. Several key technology patents have been issued to both the UW and Siemens during the collaboration. Siemens funded the UW research with $1 million and holds an exclusive license to the UW core technology.

“This is a superb example of how industrial and university partners can work together to develop technologies for the needs of tomorrow,” said Yongmin Kim. “It was truly a joint effort that maximized the special expertise of each organization.”

Koob agreed, saying, “The collaboration with the UW has been very successful. SieScape imaging is just the first of many new applications to come.”

Ultrasound is rapidly becoming the most widely used imaging technology in medicine because it is non-invasive, portable and less expensive than MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and CT (Computed Tomography). It uses no ionizing radiation, making it safer than X-ray imaging. Also, it is the only practical medical imaging technology that functions in real time to display anatomical movement and blood flow.

Ultrasound imaging systems are technologically complex and historically were designed and built from single-purpose hardware components with limited programmability. This meant that the development of new applications was a lengthy process requiring different hardware components to be built into completely new systems. The UW-Siemens image processor is programmable, allowing implementation of new applications to occur faster.

“As a consequence, the Siemens system can more quickly respond to new ultrasound clinical needs,” said Jin Kim. “This is a significant step in the evolution of ultrasound products toward more flexible, next-generation ultrasound systems.”

The UW Image Computing Systems Laboratory is a world leader in academic research for multimedia computing and imaging technologies. The laboratory combines the strengths of the College of Engineering and the School of Medicine in the UW’s fertile research environment. The UW is granted more federal grants and contracts than any other public university in the United States. In 1995, the university received more than $477 million from public and private sources.

The Ultrasound Group of Siemens, with world headquarters in Issaquah, Wash., near Seattle, is part of Siemens Medical Systems Inc. Siemens Medical Systems is located in Iselin, N.J., and is one of the nation’s leading providers of diagnostic imaging systems and advanced medical electronics systems and products. In the United States, the company employs approximately 5,000 people and has annual sales of $1.4 billion.

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NOTE TO EDITORS: Digital photographs of SieScape images are available upon request. SONOLINE is a registered trademark, and Elegra and SieScape are trademarks of Siemens Medical Systems. Pentium is a registered trademark of Intel Corp.