Singular value based spatiotemporal clutter filtering (SVD-STF) can significantly improve the sensitivity of blood flow imaging in small vessels without using contrast agents. However, despite effective clutter filtering, large physiological motion in thyroid imaging can impact coherent integration of the Doppler signal and degrade the visualization of the underlying vasculature. In this study, we hypothesize that motion correction of the clutter filtered Doppler ensemble, prior to the power Doppler estimation, can considerably improve the visualization of smalls vessels in suspicious thyroid nodules. We corroborated this hypothesis by conducting in vivo experiments on 10 female patients in the age group 44–82 yrs, with at least one thyroid nodule suspicious of malignancy, with recommendation for fine needle aspiration biopsy. Ultrasound images were acquired using a clinical ultrasound scanner, implemented with compounded plane wave imaging. Axial and lateral displacements associated with the thyroid nodules were estimated using 2D normalized cross-correlation. Subsequently, the tissue clutter associated with the Doppler ensemble was suppressed using SVD-STF. Motion correction of the clutter-filtered Doppler ensemble was achieved using a spline based sub-pixel interpolation. The results demonstrated that power Doppler images of thyroid nodules were noticeably degraded due to large physiological motion of the pulsating carotid artery in the proximity. The resultant power Doppler images were corrupted with signal distortion, motion blurring and occurrence of artificial shadow vessels and displayed visibly low signal-to-background contrast. In contrast, the power Doppler images obtained from the motion corrected ultrasound data addressed the issue and considerabley improved the visualization of blood flow. The signal-to-noise ratio and the contrast-to-noise ratio increased by up to 15.2 dB and 12.1 dB, respectively. Across the ten subjects, the highest improvement was observed for the nodule with the largest motion. These preliminary results show the ability of using motion correction to improve the visualization of small vessel blood flow in thyroid, without using any contrast agents. The results of this feasibility study were encouraging, and warrant further development and more in vivo validation in moving tissues and organs.
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