Optoacoustic tomography trailblazer receives ERC Advanced Grant towards further research

Prof. Dr. Vasilis Ntziachristos, Director of the Institute of Biological and Medical Imaging (IBMI) at Helmholtz Zentrum München (Oberschleißheim, Germany), has received an Advanced Grant award from the European Research Council (ERC; Brussels, Belgium) for a project around his pioneering work in optoacoustic tomography, a noninvasive imaging technique. The grant amounts to a total of €2.49 million (~$2.8 million) over five years.

The ERC supports excellent basic research in Europe to promote visionary projects and develop new interdisciplinary fields of knowledge. The experts see this immense potential in the technology to be developed in Ntziachristos' PREMSOT (Precision Multi-Spectral Optoacoustic Tomography for Discovery Diagnosis and Intervention) project.

The technology enables precise, noninvasive 3D deep-tissue imaging by using weak laser pulses to slightly heat the targeted region in the body. As a consequence, the tissue briefly expands and generates ultrasound waves, which are detected by appropriate sensors and translated into 3D images. Importantly, this technique allows direct long-term patient monitoring without exposure to radiation or a contrast medium, which presents a tremendous benefit for the patient.

Prof. Dr. Vasilis Ntziachristos. (Image credit: Astrid Eckert & Andreas Heddergott/TU München)

"The technology has already demonstrated initial success in determining metastatic disease in melanoma patients," says Ntziachristos. "Thanks to the MSOT technology, detection of this cancer type could now be achieved earlier without the need for biopsies or surgery." Following this lead, additional clinical MSOT studies in various fields of application, including breast and thyroid cancer as well as peripheral atherosclerosis, are currently underway.

Moreover, MSOT can also be applied to monitor/assess drug distribution or oxygen saturation in tissues, both identified as unmet clinical needs by clinical end-users. With the grant money approved for PREMSOT, Ntziachristos and his team will develop a low-cost portable device for human use. In the future, this imaging platform may be used during surgery or in diagnostics to assess pathophysiological parameters in real time and to monitor treatment efficacy.

From the technical point of view, Ntziachristos and his team aim at further improving the sensitivity of the technology and to reduce its current limitations to reliably visualize inflammation as well as metabolic and neurologic parameters.

PREMSOT is funded within the EU framework Horizon 2020 as one of the 277 projects selected from a total of approximately 2000 submissions.

For more information, please visit www.helmholtz-muenchen.de/en/index.html.

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