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Dr. Stuart Foster

Location: Toronto, ON

Award: Award of Distinction

Category:

Year: 2006

Innovation:

Developed an ultrasound microimaging system used around the globe in developmental biology, cancer and heart disease research. The system produces non-invasive images in real time, allowing researchers to track changes in great detail such as the blood vessels on a live mouse tumour, greatly enhancing the efficiency, humanity and time frame for research. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information.

News Release

Toronto Researcher Wins $25,000 Manning Award of Distinction for Inventing Ultrasound Microimaging Technology

Calgary, AB (September 22nd, 2006) — Ontario researcher Stuart Foster has revolutionized medical research with his invention of an ultrasound microimaging system.

The Vevo 770™, produced by VisualSonics Inc. of Toronto, Ontario, allows medical researchers to track what's going on inside a living mouse, as it happens and in exceptional detail. Laboratories on four continents are using the microimaging system to test drug therapies and to study mammalian development, heart disease, and cancer.

Foster is the Chief Scientific Officer and Chairman of the Board of VisualSonics, 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, Foster, a pioneer and world authority in ultrasound microimaging, has won the 2006 Manning Award of Distinction, sponsored by CanWest Global Communications Corp.

Foster explains that because mice share 95 percent 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 Vevo 770™ 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. "It's very interactive," says Foster.

In developing the Vevo 770™, Foster and his team at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto had to design a system that could handle extremely high frequency sound waves in order to achieve a high level of resolution. 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 (MR), and positron emission tomography (PET) operate at ten times the scale of the Vevo 770™.

Major drug companies, such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Glaxo, are using the Vevo 770™. So are biomedical researchers at Harvard University, Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University in the United States; the Max Planck Institute in Germany; and Canada's Université de Montréal and the University of Calgary. There are a number of the systems in Toronto.

Foster says it is very satisfying for him to see the many applications of his ultrasound microimaging system. "It seems to be something that quite a few people have adopted and started to do interesting things with," he says. "It just seems that its time has arrived."

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year, the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation will award 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 September. All will be honoured at the annual gala awards dinner, September 29th, 2006 in Calgary.

The Foundation was established in 1980 in the name of prominent Alberta statesman, Ernest C. Manning, to promote and support Canadian innovators. Since 1982, the Foundation has presented over $3.6 million in prize money through its annual awards program (www.manningawards.ca).

For more information on VisualSonics and the Vevo 770™ ultrasound microimaging system, visit http://www.visualsonics.com/index.htm or contact award-winner Stuart Foster at 416-480-5716 or at stuart.foster@sunnybrook.ca

For more information about the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation, contact Bruce Fenwick, Executive Director, at 403-645-8288 or at bruce.fenwick@encana.com
 

 

 

Media Backgrounder

$25,000 Manning Award of Distinction

Sponsored by CanWest Global Communications Corp.

Stuart Foster, VisualSonics' Vevo 770™

Who?

  • Dr. Stuart Foster, Professor and Associate Chairman, Department of Medical Biophysics, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and University of Toronto
  • Foster is also the Chief Scientific Officer and Chairman of the Board of VisualSonics Inc.

What?

  • Foster has won the $25,000 Manning Award of Distinction for inventing and developing an ultrasound microimaging system for mice; the system has expanded the scope of medical research possible

Where?

  • Foster works out of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Ontario
  • VisualSonics is based in Toronto, Ontario
  • Vevo 770™ users include major research centres in Canada and the United States; the University of Paris, France; the Max Planck Institute, Germany; as well as organizations in China, Australia, Korea, and Japan

When?

  • Foster has been working with ultrasound for clinical and pre-clinical imaging for 30 years; he began to focus on microimaging about 15 years ago
  • VisualSonics released the Vevo 770™ in late 2005 after about six years of development

Why?

The Vevo 700™ is an ultrasound microimaging system used to view tissue changes and blood flow within a living mouse. The one-of-a-kind ultrasound system produces highly detailed images in real-time, with capability for three-dimensional visualization.

Dr. Stuart Foster of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, and founder of spin-off company, VisualSonics Inc., designed the technology in collaboration with a talented team of research engineers and graduate students. Their efforts have opened significant new horizons for medical research.

Because the system is non-invasive, researchers can more humanely track changes in an individual mouse over time, instead of sacrificing many mice at sequential time points in an experiment. "We don't want to use any more mice than are absolutely necessary in any given study," explains Foster.

We share 95 percent of our genes with mice, and with the completion of the mouse genome and human genome sequencing projects, the mouse has emerged as the model of choice for genetic research. The third generation of Dr. Foster's imaging system, the Vevo 770™, allows researchers to study the effects of genetic changes in mice from their early development as embryos through to adulthood.

The Vevo 770™ has broad applications in biology, particularly in mouse models of human disease. It can be used to study the efficacies of drugs and the progression of cancers and heart disease.

Foster notes that similar technology could be used for microimaging of human structures. "In the future, applications related to ophthalmology, skin imaging and intravascular imaging may be feasible," he says.

Foster's research team is part of an international consortium of imaging scientists who are developing various microimaging technologies, including MR imaging and PET, to study the mouse model system.

How?

Ultrasound imaging works much like bats' use of echolocation: Echoes, or reflected sound waves, are used to construct a spatial image.

Conventional ultrasound imaging—the technology used to monitor a developing fetus—uses sound waves beyond the frequency that humans can hear. High frequency sound waves directed at an object bounce back, and a transducer converts the returning sound waves into a visual picture.

The key technology in the Vevo 770™ scanner is the transducer, which transmits and receives the ultrasound waves.

In order to apply ultrasound to microimaging—a method of viewing microscopic structures— Foster's team had to design a transducer that could transmit and receive extremely high frequency sound waves. They also had to develop a signal processor, among other pieces of equipment, to work with the new transducers.

Because Foster's imaging system uses ultra-high frequency sound waves, it can resolve objects less than the diameter of a human hair.

Foster says that examining a mouse with the Vevo 770™ is not unlike examining a human with conventional ultrasound. The researcher applies gel to an anaesthetized mouse, which lies on a "mouse couch." A scan head moves back and forth across the mouse's body, and a monitor reveals the inner structures of the mouse.

During the ultrasound scan, an ECG monitor and temperature monitor measure the mouse's vital signs.

"The key thing is to make sure that the mouse is comfortable and as close to its normal state as possible," notes Foster, adding that "If you've got an excited mouse, its heart rate is going to be completely different than its normal situation."

The Vevo 770™ builds on Foster's 15 years of work in ultrasound microimaging. "It goes back a long way," says Foster. "Like most things, you start with a simple idea and build on it, gradually recognizing the potential, and then develop new and improved ways of using the technique or approach."

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year, the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation will award 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 Foundation was established in 1980 in the name of prominent Alberta statesman, Ernest C. Manning, to promote and support Canadian innovators. Since 1982, the Foundation has presented over $3.6 million in prize money through its annual awards program (www.manningawards.ca).