Lab Canada

Researcher wins award for inventing ultrasound microimaging technology

Calgary, AB – Ontario researcher Dr Stuart Foster has won the $25,000 Manning Award of Distinction for revolutionizing medical research with his invention of an ultrasound microimaging system.

The system, produced by Toronto-based VisualSonics, is a high-resolution in vivo micro imaging system devised specifically for non-invasive small animal research. It enables in vivo assessment of anatomical structures and hemodynamic function in longitudinal studies of small animals.

Laboratories on four continents are using the microimaging system to test drug therapies and to study mammalian development, heart disease, and cancer.

Dr Foster is the chief scientific officer and chairman of the board of the company, a spin-off company that he founded in 1999 based on his research team’s microimaging work at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto.

In recognition of his latest innovation, Dr Foster, a pioneer and world authority in ultrasound microimaging, has won the 2006 Manning Award of Distinction, sponsored by CanWest Global Communications.

He explains that because mice share 95% of their genes with humans, the mouse is an excellent model for pre-clinical research. “We need a good model system and it has to be a living system,” he says. “…it can’t be cells in a dish, it has to be something that’s alive and has the normal physiology of a mammalian organism.”

The system is non-invasive, so researchers can use it to humanely view tissue changes and blood flow in the same mouse over many weeks, instead of sacrificing mice at time-points throughout an experiment. Researchers can, for example, track the effects of genetic changes in a mouse from its early development as an embryo through to its adulthood. The images are displayed in real-time, allowing researchers to work quickly, monitor injections, and follow the course of drug treatments targeted to specific genes or proteins.

The system images structures thinner than a human hair, such as the blood vessels on a mouse tumour. Conventional human imaging systems, including medical ultrasound, magnetic resonance, and positron emission tomography, operate at ten times the systems scale.

Major drug companies, such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Glaxo, are using the system, along with biomedical researchers at Harvard University, Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University in the United States; the Max Planck Institute in Germany; and Canada’s Universit de Montral and the University of Calgary.

In addition to his role at VisualSonics, Dr Foster is also professor and associate chair, department of medical biophysics, University of Toronto and a senior scientist with Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

This year, the Ernest C Manning Awards Foundation is awarding a total of $165,000 in prize money. Four awards, totaling $145,000, will go to leading Canadian innovators. Another $20,000 will go to Young Innovators with winning projects at the 2006 Canada-Wide Science Fair.

The winners of the 2006 Manning Innovation Awards will be announced throughout this month. All will be honoured at the annual gala awards dinner on September 29 in Calgary.