Contrast ultrasound leads young researcher to radiology

July 13, 2005

Although ultrasound contrast agents are not yet FDA-approved for use beyond the heart, they are already helping inspire careers in academic radiology.

Although ultrasound contrast agents are not yet FDA-approved for use beyond the heart, they are already helping inspire careers in academic radiology.

While completing his last year of medical school, helping to raise his three children, and taking on part-time jobs, Dr. Benjamin K. Hom somehow found the time to complete a research project. His work focused on using contrast-enhanced ultrasound to evaluate potential complications in patients undergoing liver transplants. That research not only led to a residency in radiology but also earned him a 2004 RSNA Medical Student Research Award.

"I really enjoyed radiology and liked the idea of doing something that was sort of an experiment. At that point, I had decided I wanted to become a radiologist," said the 29-year-old graduate of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Hom and fellow researchers compared microbubble-enhanced ultrasound with conventional ultrasound for the assessment of vascular complications in 50 patients who had undergone liver transplants. They found that the use of contrast improved vessel visualization and reduced scanning time. It can also spare patients the potential risks of invasive procedures.

Hom's work indicates that contrast-enhanced ultrasound can help in clinical decision-making, as it provides more information than conventional Doppler sonography. Contrast helped the investigators confidently and quickly identify all three segments of the hepatic artery. And contrast-enhanced ultrasound was able to image flow when conventional Doppler could not. The arrival time of contrast in the hepatic arteries and portal vein allowed visualization of various pathologies, decreased the number of false-positive studies, and limited the number of angiographies, Hom said.

"Ultrasound is awesome, fast, and cheap. For the benefit of patients, we hope that ultrasound contrast agents for abdominal indications get approved in the future," he said.

During the course of his research, logistical problems proved challenging. As a medical student, Hom had to balance his research efforts with surgery rotations and other clinical duties, studies, and assignments. And as a husband and father, he had to find the time to help his wife raise their three boys.

He often took on part-time work as a house painter or a golf caddie to make ends meet. The $1000 award may not have changed his life, but it helped subsidize a bit of his time.

"The money helped me avoid doing some of those things, so that I could concentrate on the research," he said.

Hom is completing the last weeks of a transitional year at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, WA, while preparing to move to the University of Virginia, where he will complete his radiology residency. He believes the RSNA award helped open the doors to UV.

"Without a doubt, this project is the most important thing I have accomplished so far in my medical career," Hom said.