A project participated by the VHIR seeks to revolutionize the detection of breast cancer using ultrasound

BSC coordinates QUSTom, the first project that will use supercomputing to detect tumors more effectively and safely.


The Vall d'Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) participates in QUSTom (Quantitative Ultrasound Stochastic Tomography) a new European project, coordinated by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center - Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC), which aims to introduce a new medical imaging modality based for the first time on ultrasound and supercomputing, and which will complement or even replace current techniques using X-rays such as mammography.

The algorithms that will be developed to obtain the medical images will offer two types of images simultaneously: the image of the patient's tissue, and the image of its associated uncertainty, which shows, pixel by pixel, how reliable the information is. The project also incorporates concepts such as multimodal imaging and real 3D imaging, which is an unprecedented combination in ultrasound breast imaging. 
These algorithms, which will be developed using supercomputers within BSC, will be inspired by others that have proven effective in completely different research areas such as the analysis of the earth's subsurface. 

In addition to BSC and VHIR, the project involves: the Karlsruher Institut für Technologie, Arctur and the BSC spin-off, and Imperial College London FrontWave Imaging, which is aligned with the objectives of this project, as well as Imperial College London itself as a partner. Thus physicists, engineers, operating experts and radiological physicians will work together to develop the next generation of radiation-free, accurate and scalable breast cancer diagnostic tools.

BSC researcher and project coordinator Josep de la Puente says: "QUSTom poses an excellent opportunity to bring ultrasound imaging to the next level. Interestingly enough, the revolution that we propose comes, not just from an extraordinary imaging device, but from the imaging algorithms used to generate unprecedented ultrasound images. Images that we can fairly compare to those obtained with MRI”. 

The process of understanding, interpreting and configuring the images as a new diagnostic tool will be carried out by the team of Breast Imaging Radiologists from the Women's Radiology Service at Vall d'Hebron Hospital. "The development of this new technology will be carried out within the framework of the multimodal assessment that the team performs in the clinical care process as an integral part of the diagnosis and monitoring of breast cancer, all in the context of the Breast Pathology Unit," highlights Ana Rodríguez-Arana, head of the Women's Radiology Service at the Vall d'Hebron Hospital and researcher of the group Medical Molecular Imaging in VHIR.

QUSTom has been selected to take part in the first call of the Pathfinder Open programme of the European Innovation Council (EIC), funded by the European Union's Horizon Europe Framework Programme, which aims to support disruptive ideas and projects with great international potential. The project has been awarded with 2,744,300 euros over 2 years. In this first call the European Commission evaluated a total of 868 projects and in the end only 56 were selected, 11 of them from Spain. In total, they will receive up to 168 million euros in funding.

Ultrasound to revolutionize diagnosis of the most common tumor

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed type of tumor in the world, with 2.3 million women diagnosed in 2020 (REf SEOM) and 700,000 deaths due to this disease that same year. Early detection is therefore essential, since, if successful, survival at 5 years after diagnosis is as high as 90%.

Mammography is one of the most widely used methods to detect breast cancer and has saved millions of lives. However, there are studies that claim that it can give false positives and alert of a possible tumor that is not found later in the screening phase.

"We are very ambitious and plan for validation of the technology within the project's lifetime. We are also working on a roadmap towards its actual exploitation, we don't want this technology sitting in the lab. We are leaving no stone unturned towards satisfying what is, in our eyes, an urgent need for the female population worldwide. The challenge is huge but all of our partners and associates are extraordinarily committed and motivated towards our mission", concludes de la Puente.

Further information about the project

It will complement or even replace current techniques using X-rays such as mammography.

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