University of Rochester

University Dean Recognized for Ultrasound Research

July 27, 1999

The University of Rochester dean of engineering has received one of the highest prizes in the field of medical ultrasound for his research, which is helping to spur new ways of thinking about how to find cancers of the breast, liver, and prostate.

Kevin J. Parker, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has been awarded the Joseph Holmes Basic Science Pioneer Award by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. He is well known in the ultrasound community as a co-developer of a new type of experimental ultrasound known as sonoelasticity, where one sound wave is used to jiggle tissue and a second is used to gather information. In 1990 the publication by Parker and radiologist Robert Lerner proposing the method was named best paper of the year by the World Federation of Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology.

Together with physician Deborah Rubens, Parker is continuing studies of sonoelasticity, which might someday be used to detect tiny tumors of the breast, prostate, and liver much earlier than tumors are caught today. In laboratory tests the method has detected tiny tumor-like objects that conventional ultrasound scans and other imaging methods routinely miss. With $750,000 in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the team is now working with researchers from General Electric to build a new type of 3-D sonoelasticity scanner. As a result of Parker's early research, several studies on sonoelasticity are now under way in about a dozen ultrasound laboratories around the world.

Parker, an electrical engineer by training, is also an expert on ultrasound contrast agents, which can boost the quality of images and make tumors and organs easier to see. University scientists have long been experts in the area -- in the 1960s they were first in the world to use such agents -- and Parker has continued the tradition. Parker wrote one of the most-quoted articles in the field, explaining the fundamentals of how the compounds work, and he and colleagues developed a novel agent, dubbed "bubbicles" (a combination of bubbles and particles). Bubbicles have helped researchers understand the basic physics of contrast agents, which are now used widely by cardiologists to take images of the beating heart.

The research takes place at the University's Center for Biomedical Ultrasound, where dozens of engineers and physicians work together on new ways to diagnose and treat disease. Since 1990 Parker has headed the center, which is known internationally for studies on the safety and biological effects of ultrasound.

Parker, a professor of electrical engineering and radiology, was named dean last year. He is a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He has received Eastman Kodak Co.'s Outstanding Innovation Award in Manufacturing Research and Engineering, as well as an award from undergraduates for his teaching.

Parker's students have also been recognized for their contributions. Last year Fai Yeung received the best paper award at a medical imaging symposium, and this year a paper by student Stephen McAleavey was cited as outstanding. With another former student, Theophano Mitsa, Parker holds a series of patents on a new way to derive halftone images faster and of higher quality than with other methods. That work has been licensed by about a dozen companies, and the technology is in tens of thousands of printers, fax machines, and other devices.

Parker holds a bachelor's degree in engineering science from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and master's and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.