Tomorrow's Health, Today's Research

Dr. Rodney Herring

Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Phone: 250-721-8934
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Lab Page:
Research: medical imaging,
electron microscopy, and confocal holography


Research Profile

Sight and Sound: How acoustic beams help us see hidden tumors

Dr. Rodney Herring is an expert at finding things that are difficult to see. Whether it is a tumor hiding in the soft tissues of the human body or a protein crystal that is more than 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, Herring can capture an image of it.

An associate professor for the University of Victoria’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, Herring spends much of his time designing innovative imaging devices that have a wide range of applications.

Scanning Transmission Electron Holography Microscope (STEHM). Dr Herring was a key player in the design and installation of UVic’s STEHM, a high-resolution electron microscope that (until recently) was the most powerful in the world. With the capacity to image objects on a pecometer scale (1000 times smaller than the nanoscale), the STEHM enables scientists to observe not just cells, but the tiny structures within them: microtubules, proteins, chromosomes and DNA.

Diffuse acoustic confocal imaging device (DACI). One of Herring’s most promising areas of research is in the field of medical imaging. He currently has a patent pending for a diffuse acoustic confocal imaging device (DACI) that uses an acoustic beam to diagnose, and potentially even treat, difficult-to-detect tumors.

The small and economical DACI may be simple in its construction — an emitter, a lens and a linear array detector — but it is a powerful, noninvasive method of producing detailed 3D images. This is significant in the world of medicine, where current imaging techniques have proven to be inadequate when it comes to looking at soft tissue organs deep within the human body; organs such as the prostate, brain and pancreas.

 Unlike traditional medical imaging methods that use parallel or divergent beams (including ultrasound and x-rays), the DACI relies on convergent beams that essentially work to create a virtual imaging source. This means that the DACI is capable of producing images with a very unique perspective, images that appear as if they have been taken from within the human body.

DACI is also unique in that it relies on speed of sound (SOS) measurements, in addition to the standard wave amplitude measurements. Because SOS is dependant upon the state of the organ of interest (including cell size, granularity, tissue elasticity, temperature and degree of inflammation), measuring SOS can provide clinicians with valuable information about the type and state of diseased tissue.

 Along with improving diagnostics, the DACI also has the potential to play a significant role in cancer treatment, simply by increasing the strength and dwell time of the acoustic beam. Accurate imaging and precision focusing means that tumor ablation treatment can be limited to the diseased pockets of tissue, sparing healthy tissues that are often damaged during traditional ultrasound-guided treatments. Furthermore, SOS measurements during treatment would also allow technicians to monitor live-time changes in tissue and treatment progress.

Herring’s DACI has already seen success with a phantom prostate — material purchased from a medical company that simulates real prostate tissue embedded with lesions. Next, Herring hopes to run trials on actual prostate tissue acquired from human cadavers.

So why did an engineer with a background in the automotive, nuclear, and aerospace industries end up dedicating the past 18 years to the creation of this innovative medical imaging device?

 â€œBecause we need it,” says Herring, simply put. “There is currently no effective way to image the prostate…I’ve had plenty of people say, ‘You cannot do this or you cannot do that,’ but you can.”