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The Washington Research Foundation Fellowship

Anning Yao, Bioengineering, 2011-12 WRFF

Anning Yao photoThe volunteer experience I had in the miserable earthquake happened in Sichuan province, China in 2008 gave me the determination of getting into biomedical field. When I saw the survivors lost their arms and legs, I wish I could help while I had zero knowledge in medical science. That moment dawned on me that advanced technology plays a crucial part in medical care and without it, it could be detrimental. It was at that moment of fear that I decided to pursue a career in biomedical research.

I started my first research experience in Dr. Pierre Mouradís lab at the Department of Neurosurgery, where I received intensive trainings on animal surgeries and assisted many animal-related imaging experiments. Armed with the surgical and image processing skills I gained during the summer, I moved to my first independent project, in which I optimized and tested a commercial imaging device based on ultrasound elastography to detect diaschisis of ischemic stroke, in my junior year. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from medical research is that even if it does fail most of the time, I can never lose hope because I do not know when I will see the light in the tunnel. During the summer of 2011, I had a research internship in the Tissue Engineering Research Center, Academy of Military Medical Science in China, where I performed research on heart tissue regeneration in vitro and stem cell therapy on ischemic myocardium. In the senior year, I will take a further step towards my stroke project. I will build a research-based ultrasound-imaging device that allows complete control over all aspects including data acquisition and processing, image formation and display, and user interface.

The passion for research motivates me to pursue a Ph.D. degree after graduation, and I truthfully hope to contribute more to the field of medical imaging and tissue engineering during my career. I am really grateful for the financial support from the Washington Research Foundation Fellowship as it allows me to continue conducting my research on the stroke-imaging project and motivates me to pursue a further career in biomedical field.

Mentor: Pierre Mourad, Neurosurgery

Project Title: The Use of Ultrasound Elastography as an Imaging Tool for Stroke

Abstract:Stroke is the degeneration of brain tissue caused by blockage of blood flow to the brain. Stroke can cause permanent brain damage, complications, and death. It is one of the leading causes of adult disability and death worldwide. Ultrasound (US) elastography is a technique that measures local tissue deformation from ultrasound-induced shear wave propagation within tissue from which it derives estimates of local tissue stiffness. US elastography has been applied to differential diagnosis of breast and prostate cancers, but has not been applied to stroke, until now. The purpose of the study is to explore our hypothesis that ultrasound elastography based on exogenous brain tissue displacement is sufficient to map and quantify the tissue stiffness of brain after stroke. Our preliminary studies performed using a commercial ultrasound-imaging machine on 30 live mice with stroke induced by means of surgical occlusion of the middle cerebral artery demonstrated reduced stiffness (low shear modulus) in the hemisphere with stroke as compared with the contralateral, stroke-free hemisphere. However, imaging artifacts always appear around the skull, which distort the imaging results, such that it is hard to quantify sub-hemispheric variations in brain-tissue stiffness. We propose to optimize the research ultrasound-imaging device in order to generate quantitative elastograms without imaging artifacts. Compared with the commercial ultrasound device, the research ultrasound device allows complete control over all aspects including data acquisition, data processing, image formation, image display and user interface, which involves in optimization of all types of pre-image processing parameters. The optimized elastograms will be compared with histology images. The difference in stiffness between two hemispheres will be evaluated using statistical tests. This research will be a key step toward exploring the ultrasound parameters for imaging stroke, which will contribute to the development of a better imaging tool for potential stroke patients.