Three hospitals, three industrial corporations specialized in ultrasound and echocardiography, and three research departments are gathered in a consortium, coordinated by GMD, the German National Research Centre for Information Technology to implement the CardiAssist project. This three year initiative, residing under the Health Telematics Programme of the European Union, has been set up to optimize the quality of 3D ultrasound images for more accurate cardiac diagnosis, and to design a system for both training and teleconsultation purposes, in order to improve the information exchange between physicians, attached to cardiological centres and peripheral hospitals in different countries.
The project partners have decided to implement the CardiAssist system on three different platforms. The first one constitutes an integrated ultrasound scanner of the newest generation, which provides 3D imaging of superior quality and powerful tools for efficient diagnosis of cardiac diseases, as well as for communication of medical findings with colleagues. An add-on device for 3D ultrasound usage with existing scanners, including diagnostic and communications equipment, is conceived for the second platform. The third application consists of a standalone training system to practise precise diagnosis of congenital and adult cardiac affections, applying 3D ultrasound on local or remote PCs and workstations.
The European hospitals, involved in the project, will assess the performance of the various prototypes in the established configurations, in collaboration with the industrial partners. The research team has developed two software modules. The EchoVol merges the 3D ultrasound images with an animated 3D model, thus allowing size and orientation of the visual material to be registered. The trainees are able to situate the 3D image capture by means of the integrated model, whereas a pre-set spectrum of pathologies and their corresponding diagnostic patterns helps them to define the disease. The EchoTutor and EchoSim demonstrators, as designed in the SCENE project, have served as a techological basis for the EchoVol.
In turn, the EchoComm features tools for synchronous and asynchronous communication, including pointing and annotational functions to examine 3D patient data calibrated with virtual models over ISDN lines or high-speed networks. In this way, it is able to act as a teleconsultation service, based on the common artefact of the shared 3D material for effective guidance of the diagnostic process between the remotely co-operating cardiologists. The use of 3D ultrasonic images allows experts to communicate asynchronously, so they do not have to be available at the same time. In order to improve the limited quality of the 3D ultrasound imagery, the researchers have applied digital processing on the basic radio-frequency (RF) ultrasound signal to reduce the acoustic noise.
CardiAssist is bound to offer major advantages for non-invasive diagnosis and surgical planning of cardiac diseases. Ultrasound imaging constitutes a cost-effective method for echocardiographic procedures. Since the technique requires an excellent knowledge of the heart's spatial structure as well as its dynamic behaviour, the project partners have embedded extensive training facilities into the system to allow the trainee to acquire a mental model of the blood cavities, heart wall and valves. Final evaluation of the system by the partnering hospitals in Bonn, Rotterdam and Lisbon will undoubtedly prove the qualitative asset of 3D ultrasound for cardiac diagnosis within Europe, especially in teleconsultation environments.
For more news about the underlying technology, we refer to the SCENE-article in the August Issue of the VMW Magazine. The GMD Web site provides you with worth knowing details of the CardiAssist project.