A collaborative research facility aimed at advancing medical imaging technology to the benefit of physicians and patients has been set up in the US by computer giant IBM and Mayo Clinic, the not-for-profit medical centre with campuses in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota.

Jointly sponsored and staffed, the Medical Imaging Informatics Innovation Center (MI3C) will be housed on the Mayo Clinic campus in Rochester, Minnesota, with a full-time team of Mayo and IBM researchers and development staff. By mutual agreement, third parties will also have the opportunity to collaborate with Mayo and IBM in the new facility.

The MI3C builds on an existing Mayo-IBM collaboration announced last year. The joint research team has already exploited parallel computer architecture and memory bandwidth to design an imaging application that can register medical images 50 times faster than with a traditional processor configuration.

Image registration is the computer-enhanced alignment in three-dimensional space of medical images obtained at different dates or using different imaging devices. With the visual data properly aligned, a radiologist can more easily detect structural changes such as the growth or shrinkage of tumours.

In the same vein, the Medical Imaging Informatics Innovation Center will explore projects in medical imaging and radiology that can help to provide physicians with faster and better information and, by extension, patients with better treatments.

“The collaborative potential of the MI3C gives us the opportunity to develop computationally intensive solutions for diagnostic problems we see every day, but that we at Mayo could not attempt to resolve on our own,” said Dr Bradley Erickson, head of the Clinic’s Radiology Informatics Lab.

“IBM has world-class research and development teams focused on the fundamental algorithms that drive medical imaging informatics and hardware, while Mayo Clinic provides its expertise for exploiting these algorithms in applications that support a working, real-life radiology environment,” commented Bill Rapp, chief technology officer for IBM’s Healthcare and Life Sciences team.

Among the potential projects to be addressed at the MI3C are:

- Maximum-resolution organ imaging to provide physical (phenotype) information that parallels the current level of genetic detail available for the same tissue. This is designed to give physicians a much more complete impression of a patient’s condition.

- Image-guided tumor ablation to pinpoint and maximise the efficiency of heat transfer probes used to destroy cancer tumours. By guiding physicians, this technology can help to improve accuracy and minimise side effects, IBM and Mayo Clinic explained.

- “Video swallow analysis” – seeing and comparing how stroke patients swallow so as to better determine the severity of their disability and help provide proper physical therapy as well as protection against choking.

- Automated Change Detection and Analysis. This enables physicians to compare a new medical image with a previous one, eliminate what has not changed and better assess what change has occurred, helping to improve diagnostic speed and accuracy.

Underpinning the collaboration will be the latest in high-end imaging platforms and computational hardware, including IBM’s breakthrough computing system based on the Cell Broadband Engine and blade technology.