Circumventing the resolution-time tradeoff in Ultrasound Localization Microscopy by Velocity Filtering

Ultrasound Localization Microscopy (ULM) offers a cost-effective modality for microvascular imaging by using intravascular contrast agents (microbubbles). However, ULM has a fundamental trade-off between acquisition time and spatial resolution, which makes clinical translation challenging. In this paper, in order to circumvent the trade-off, we introduce a spatiotemporal filtering operation dubbed velocity filtering, which is capable of separating contrast agents into different groups based on their vector velocities thus reducing interference in the localization step, while simultaneously offering blood velocity mapping at super resolution, without tracking individual microbubbles. As side benefit, the velocity filter provides noise suppression before microbubble localization that could enable substantially increased penetration depth in tissue typically by 4cm or more. We provide a theoretical analysis of the performance of velocity filter. Numerical experiments confirm that the proposed velocity filter is able to separate the microbubbles with respect to the speed and direction of their motion. In combination with subsequent localization of microbubble centers, e.g. by matched filtering, the velocity filter improves the quality of the reconstructed vasculature significantly and provides blood flow information. Overall, the proposed imaging pipeline in this paper enables the use of higher concentrations of microbubbles while preserving spatial resolution, thus helping circumvent the trade-off between acquisition time and spatial resolution. Conveniently, because the velocity filtering operation can be implemented by fast Fourier transforms(FFTs) it admits fast, and potentially real-time realization. We believe that the proposed velocity filtering method has the potential to pave the way to clinical translation of ULM.


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