Diffusion tensor tractography (DTT) enables visualization of fiber trajectories in soft tissue using magnetic resonance imaging. DTT exploits the anisotropic nature of water diffusion in fibrous structures to identify diffusion pathways by generating streamlines based on the principal diffusion vector. Anomalies in these pathways can be linked to neural deficits. In a different field, contrast-enhanced ultrasound is used to assess anomalies in blood flow with the aim of locating cancer-induced angiogenesis. Like water diffusion, blood flow and transport of contrast agents also shows a principal direction; however, this is now determined by the local vasculature. Here we show how the tractographic techniques developed for magnetic resonance imaging DTT can be translated to contrast-enhanced ultrasound, by first estimating contrast flow velocity fields from contrast-enhanced ultrasound acquisitions, and then applying tractography. We performed 4D in-vivo contrast-enhanced ultrasound of three human prostates, proving the feasibility of the proposed approach with clinically acquired datasets. By comparing the results to histopathology after prostate resection, we observed qualitative agreement between the contrast flow tracts and typical markers of cancer angiogenic microvasculature: higher densities and tortuous geometries in tumor areas. The method can be used in-vivo using a standard contrast-enhanced ultrasound protocol, opening up new possibilities in the area of vascular characterization for cancer diagnostics.
- Contrast Media
- Diffusion Tensor Imaging/methods
- Image Enhancement/methods
- Imaging, Three-Dimensional/methods
- Neovascularization, Pathologic/diagnostic imaging
- Prostate/blood supply
- Prostatic Neoplasms/blood supply