Press Release

NASA Technology May Aid Interpretation Of Medical Imagery

By SpaceRef Editor
October 14, 2010
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NASA Technology May Aid Interpretation Of Medical Imagery

GREENBELT, Md. — NASA software used to enhance Earth science imagery could help interpret medical imagery. The new MED-SEG system, developed by Bartron Medical Imaging Inc. of Largo, Md., relies on an innovative software program developed at NASA to help doctors analyze mammograms, ultrasounds, digital X-rays and other medical imaging tests.

“The use of this computer-based technology could minimize human error that occurs when evaluating radiologic films and might allow for earlier detection of abnormalities within the tissues being imaged,” said Dr. Thomas Rutherford, director of Gynecologic Oncology at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

The Food and Drug Administration recently cleared the system for trained professionals to process images. These images can be used in radiologists’ reports and communications, but the processed images should not be used for primary diagnosis.

MED-SEG is a software device that receives medical images and data from various medical imaging sources. Images and data can be stored, communicated, processed and displayed within the system or across computer networks at distributed locations.

The core of Bartron’s MED-SEG system is a computer algorithm, the Hierarchical Segmentation Software, developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., by computer engineer James C. Tilton. He began working on his algorithm more than 25 years ago.

His goal was to advance a totally new approach for analyzing digital images, which are made up of thousands of pixels. Like a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle, a pixel often does not provide enough information about where it fits in the overall scene. To overcome the deficiency, Tilton focused on an approach called image segmentation, which organizes and groups an image’s pixels together at different levels of detail. Tilton’s approach to image segmentation is different than others. It finds region objects, and also groups spatially separated region objects together into region classes.

For example, an Earth satellite image may contain several lakes of different depths. Deep lakes appear dark blue, and shallow lakes are a lighter shade of blue. The software first finds each individual lake; then it groups together all shallow lakes into one class and the deeper lakes into another. Because lakes are more similar than they are to vegetation, roads, buildings, and other objects, the software groups all lakes together, regardless of their varying colors. As a result, the software allows the user to distinguish important features in the scene accurately and quickly.

Bartron learned of the software through Goddard’s Innovative Partnerships Program Office. In 2003 the company licensed the patented technology to create a system that would differentiate hard-to-see details in complex medical images.

“Trained professionals can use the MED-SEG system to separate two-dimensional images into digitally related sections or regions that, after colorization, can be individually labeled by the user,” explained Fitz Walker, president and CEO of Bartron Medical Imaging.

Dr. Molly Brewer, a professor with the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, would like to do clinical trials with the MED-SEG system to improve mammography as a diagnostic tool for detecting breast cancer.

“One problem with mammograms is they often give a false negative for detecting abnormalities in women’s breasts,” Brewer said. “Women who either have high breast density or a strong family history of breast cancer are often sent for MRIs, which are costly, very uncomfortable and have a high false positive rate resulting in many unnecessary biopsies. The MED-SEG processes the image allowing a doctor to see a lot more detail in a more quantitative way. This new software could save patients a lot of money by reducing the number of costly and unnecessary tests.”

For more information about Goddard’s Innovative Partnerships Program Office, visit:

For more information about NASA partnerships, innovation and commercial space opportunities, visit:

For images and video of MED-SEG and NASA’s software, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.