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Thomas Royston

Thomas Royston: Acoustical Diagnoses

The research of Thomas Royston, PhD, focuses heavily on how various diseases and injuries can be diagnosed by measuring the stiffness and damping of tissues through optical or magnetic resonance elastography.


“The objective, technically, is to get a map of the mechanical properties,” says Royston, head of the newly merged department of bioengineering in the College of Medicine and College of Engineering.
He’s using optical elastography to map the stiffness of the cornea, which can change in response to disease and then again in response to treatment. His use of magnetic resonance elastography, more applicable to internal organs, includes preliminary study of the brain and heart and a more in-depth look at the lungs, the latter of which Royston has a federal NIH R01 grant to study.
The lung study is part of a broader effort called the “audible human project” to develop an acoustic model of sound and vibration transmission inside and throughout the body, Royston says.
“You’re measuring vibratory wave motion. Sometimes, it’s easy to correlate that with stiffness properties,” he says, as in the liver, because it’s a large and relatively homogenous organ. “But with more complicated geometries like the heart wall or lungs, it’s extremely difficult to interpret what you’re measuring. The R01 project will develop a comprehensive computer model that will simulate how these organs vibrate.”
He’s used animal models so far, but Royston anticipates translational applications. “We’re looking at developing diagnostic methods that we intend to translate into human subject studies, and ultimately the clinic,” he says.