A method for tracking enemy planes may soon track a new enemy: breast-cancer cells. Starting in the 1970s, Bernard D. Steinberg, an electrical engineer at the University of Pennsylvania, developed mathematical techniques for the military to transform blips on a radar screen into sharp images of airplanes. Now, he hopes to apply the system to ultrasound images for early detection of breast cancer.
Today's X-ray mammograms have good resolution of shapes, but don't distinguish well between the darks and lights of benign and malignant tissues. Ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves, gives better contrast than X-rays but poorer resolution of shapes. So, Steinberg is working with postdoctoral fellow Qing Zhu and Robert Waag, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Rochester, on a mathematical recipe, or algorithm, to improve ultrasound's resolution. The goal is to clean up the distortion in the image without wiping out the variations in the ultrasound echo that are intrinsic to different structures in the breast.