Characterization of the nonlinear elastic properties of soft tissues using the supersonic shear imaging (SSI) technique: Inverse method, ex vivo and in vivo experiments
Dynamic elastography has become a new clinical tool in recent years to characterize the elastic properties of soft tissues in vivo, which are important for the disease diagnosis, e.g., the detection of breast and thyroid cancer and liver fibrosis. This paper investigates the supersonic shear imaging (SSI) method commercialized in recent years with the purpose to determine the nonlinear elastic properties based on this promising technique. Particularly, we explore the propagation of the shear wave induced by the acoustic radiation force in a stressed hyperelastic soft tissue described via the Demiray-Fung model. Based on the elastodynamics theory, an analytical solution correlating the wave speed with the hyperelastic parameters of soft tissues is first derived. Then an inverse approach is established to determine the hyperelastic parameters of biological soft tissues based on the measured wave speeds at different stretch ratios. The property of the inverse method, e.g., the existence, uniqueness and stability of the solution, has been investigated. Numerical experiments based on finite element simulations and the experiments conducted on the phantom and pig livers have been employed to validate the new method. Experiments performed on the human breast tissue and human heel fat pads have demonstrated the capability of the proposed method for measuring the in vivo nonlinear elastic properties of soft tissues. Generalization of the inverse analysis to other material models and the implication of the results reported here for clinical diagnosis have been discussed.