Advancing Neck Examination with Ultrasound-based ECHOMICS Signatures


The examination of the head and neck region using ultrasound (U/S) has long been a standard diagnostic procedure for ENT physicians. Traditionally, live 2D images have been used to search typically for abnormal lymph nodes in the neck region. Once localized, the morphology of such lymph nodes has been assessed by the physician on 2D U/S images using visual skills and previous training.

A groundbreaking development has been tackled in the ECHOMICS project. Instead of relying solely on 2D images, we are now acquiring 3D U/S data, allowing for a precise, texture-based analysis of individual lymph node appearances. Drawing inspiration from the automated analysis of tumors in radiological images ("radiomics"), we are deriving image-based biomarkers from U/S images, which we call "echomics."

By combining the ECHOMICS data with other patient-specific non-imaging parameters we can differentiate between various disease groups. This facilitates improved diagnosis, particularly in assessing the risk that a lymph node change may indicate a potential tumor disease. Additionally, elastography images of the relevant neck region provide additional insights into the tissue characteristics of lymph nodes. These parameters, along with clinical and anamnestic factors, are correlated with ultrasound images and integrated into a visual analytics tool. This approach enhances diagnosis by allowing comparison with similar patients in the corresponding cohort. Furthermore, it aids in tailoring therapies based on the treatment experiences of similar patients.

The experimental and pioneering objective of ECHOMICS is to develop ultrasound-based ECHOMICS signatures, which shall serve as biomarker profiles for typical disease patterns. These signatures have the potential to enhance or even replace existing diagnostic methods, as the non-invasive ECHOMICS-based signature may provide a comprehensive characterization of the lymph nodes, eliminating in the long run the need for invasive biopsies.

ECHOMICS represents a significant advancement in neck examination, leveraging cutting-edge ultrasound technology and innovative data analysis techniques to revolutionize diagnostic practices.