Press Release 128/2011

Accelerated Imaging for Breast Cancer Diagnosis

KIT Scientists Develop Technologies to Accelerate Imaging Processes
Optimierte Halterung für die Ultraschall-Sensoren – die dann ein dreidimensionales Bild der Brust ermöglichen (Foto: Markus Breig)
Optimized holder of ultrasonic sensors recording three-dimensional images of the breast. (Photo: Markus Breig, KIT)

About ten percent of the women in the western world suffer from breast cancer, about 30 % die from metastases. 3D ultrasonic computer tomography supplies high-resolution and reproducible images and, hence, represents a promising process for early diagnosis. To turn this prototype into a standard device, however, the researchers are required to speed up image processing considerably. With this in mind, KTI scientists are doing research into accelerated algorithms and high-performance hardware architectures.

When discovered, a tumor in the breast has an average size of 1 cm. In 30 percent of all cases, metastases have already developed. At the Institute for Data Processing and Electronics (IPE), scientists have now set up the first 3D ultrasound computer tomograph worldwide, which records high-resolution images of the breast. “The device has the potential of also detecting much smaller tumors,” says Dr. Nicole Ruiter from IPE. “We hope to reach a mean tumor size of 5 mm at the time of diagnosis. In this case, the probability of metastasis development is 5 % only.”


Patientinnen-Liege für die 3-D-Ultraschall- Computertomographie (Foto: IPE)

Examination table for 3D ultrasound
computer tomography. (Photo: IPE)

With more than 1000 sensors surrounding the breast, the ultrasound computer tomograph records the data. For a three-dimensional representation of highest resolution, however, the process presently still needs several weeks of computing time. With reasonable limitations, such as images of individual layers, the process is accelerated, but optimum use in clinical practice still requires a considerable speed-up of image reconstruction.

Apart from the development of adequate algorithms for image reconstruction, high-performance hardware has to be supplied. “It must not only offer high computing power, but also be flexible and affordable,” says Dr. Michael Hübner from the Institute of Information Processing Technologies (ITIV). The scientists are therefore working on linking various high-performance computer architectures. Among others, they want to use the field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) that are applied for data acquisition in the ultrasound computer tomograph also for computing. The team headed by Matthias Balzer (IPE) has developed and optimized this hardware specially for large data volumes and high computing powers. “With the 80 parallel FPGAs, we are given enormous advantages in speed. In addition, dynamic reconfiguration, that is reuse of existing chip surface for repeated calculations, will enable us to integrate onto the chips several processors in a sequence,” says Hübner. “This will reduce energy consumption of the system and later cost of operation.”

With the raw data from ultrasound computer tomography, they test algorithms for image reconstruction on traditional microprocessors, the FPGAs or graphics processors as applied in commerical PCs. The team wants to stay as flexbile as possible. Only then can new developments in algorithmics be implemented rapidly. In their Ph. D. theses, Matthias Birk (IPE) and Peter Figuli (ITIV) are presently investigating this field. It is aimed at speeding up the process by the factor of 100. In the long term, data processing in real time is envisaged. Then, the process might also be used for therapy, as ultrasound focused at high energy can burn tissue and may, hence, represent an alternative to operation.

The German Research Foundation is funding the joint project of the Institute for Data Processing and Electronics (IPE) headed by Professor Marc Weber and the Institute of Information Processing Technologies (ITIV) headed by Professor Jürgen Becker for two years.


Being “The Research University in the Helmholtz Association”, KIT creates and imparts knowledge for the society and the environment. It is the objective to make significant contributions to the global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility, and information. For this, about 9,600 employees cooperate in a broad range of disciplines in natural sciences, engineering sciences, economics, and the humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 23,300 students for responsible tasks in society, industry, and science by offering research-based study programs. Innovation efforts at KIT build a bridge between important scientific findings and their application for the benefit of society, economic prosperity, and the preservation of our natural basis of life. KIT is one of the German universities of excellence.

le, 03.08.2011


Monika Landgraf
Head of Corporate Communications, Chief Press Officer
Phone: +49 721 608-41150
Fax: +49 721 608-43658
presseQvx3∂kit edu

Contact for this press release:

Margarete Lehné
Press Officer
Phone: +49 721 608-41157
Fax: +49 721 608-41157
margarete lehneFhh5∂kit edu
The photo in the best quality available to us may be requested by
presseMmp2∂kit edu or phone: +49 721 608-41105.

The press release is available as a PDF file.