$3.5 Million Grant To Establish Unique Center

December 10, 1997

Researchers at Penn State have received a $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish the nation's only resource center for the development of ultrasonic transducer/array technology for medical diagnostic procedures. This technology is used in the probes doctors hold against a patient during an ultrasound scan.

Ultrasonic transducers/arrays transform electricity into ultrasound waves, and vice versa, so that the returned ultrasound echoes from structures in the human body can be used to obtain internal diagnostic information from patients, much like X-rays or CAT scans. Improving these devices will permit better image quality, leading to improved diagnosis for medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, birth defects and tumors.

Penn State researchers from across the University are combining forces to focus on two areas: First, developing ultrasonic transducers/arrays in the high frequency range, beyond 30 megahertz, which will be used in ophthalmology, dermatology and vascular surgery to see finer details than is now possible. Second, using new more efficient materials which will create better clinical images.

"Ultrasonic imaging is one of the most important medical imaging methods today," said K. Kirk Shung, professor of bioengineering and principal investigator for the grant. "It possesses several advantages over other techniques, like x-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), including being non-invasive, relatively inexpensive, portable and capable of producing a tomographical image - an image of a two-dimensional slice of the body. Another very important advantage is that ultrasound produces images fast enough to allow monitoring the motion of structures within the body, such as a fetus or a beating heart.

"Most engineers have an incomplete understanding of ultrasonic transducer performance, because it requires a broad interdisciplinary knowledge," Shung said. "The four-year grant from NIH builds on an earlier Whitaker Foundation grant which established the interdisciplinary Whitaker Center for Medical Ultrasonic Transducer Engineering at Penn State in 1994. We anticipate much improvement to this technology to be made with our new funding."

According to Shung, limiting factors to improving ultrasound transducer/array technology are the critical national shortage of engineers knowledgeable in this subject, and the lack of research and development sites. Using the Whitaker grant, Penn State established a graduate program in bioengineering with an emphasis on ultrasound transducer technology, and six students recently graduated from this program - two with Ph.D. degrees and four with M.S. degrees.

Now the NIH funding will provide Penn State researchers the resources to focus on needed R&D as a service for academic institutions and commercial companies. Research is currently under way for eight clients, and an advisory board is in place to select the projects for future development.

Penn State was chosen as a site for this national resource center because the interdisciplinary expertise and infrastructure needed to pursue the research existed here through The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the Applied Research Laboratory, the Intercollege Materials Research Laboratory and the College of Engineering's bioengineering and acoustic programs.

Co-investigators in the NIH national resource center are: Jon W. Meilstrup, assistant professor of radiology, Diane M. Thiboutot, associate professor of dermatology, George Rosenwasser, associate professor of ophthalmology, and Randy M. Hauck, assistant professor of surgery, all from Hershey; Thomas R. Shrout, senior scientist and professor of materials, and Wenwu Cao, associate professor of math and materials research, from the Intercollege Materials Research Laboratory; and W. Jack Hughes, senior research associate and associate professor of acoustics, Richard L. Tutwiler, research associate, and Grant A. Gordon, research associate in engineering science, all with the Applied Research Laboratory.$3.5 million grant to establish unique center

A'ndrea Elyse Messer, Public Information
Penn State
December 10, 1997

Penn State

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