Analysis of the potential for coded excitation to improve the detection of tissue and blood motion in medical ultrasound.
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Doppler ultrasound imaging modalities arguably represent one of the most complex task performed (usually in real time) by ultrasound scanners. At the heart of these techniques lies the ability to detect and estimate soft tissues or blood motion within the human body. As they have become an invaluable tool in a wide range of clinical applications, these techniques have fostered an intensive effort of research in the field of signal processing for more than thirty years, with a push towards more accurate velocity or displacement estimation. Coded excitation has recently received a growing interest in the medical ultrasound community. The use of these techniques, originally developed in the radar field, makes it possible to increase the depth of penetration in B-mode imaging, while complying with safety standards. These standards impose strict limits on the peak acoustic intensity which can be transmitted into the body. Similar solutions were proposed in the early developments of Doppler flow-meters to improve the resolution / sensitivity trade-off from which typical pulsed Doppler systems suffer. This work discusses the potential improvements in resolution, sensitivity and accuracy achievable in the context of modern Doppler ultrasound imaging modalities (taken in its broadest sense, that is, all the techniques involving the estimation of displacements, or velocities). A theoretical framework is provided for discussing this potential improvements, along with simulations for a more quantitative assessment. Colour Flow Imaging (CFI) modalities are taken as the main reference technique for discussion, due to their historical importance, and their relevance in many clinical applications. The potential achievable improvement in accuracy is studied in the context of modern velocity estimation strategies, which can be broadly classified into narrowband estimators (such as the “Kasai” estimator still widely used in CFI) and time shift based wideband strategies (normalised crosscorrelation estimator used, for instance, in applications like strain or strain rate estimation, elastography, etc.). Finally, simulations and theoretical results are compared to experimental data obtained with a simple custom-designed experimental set-up, using a single-element transducer.