Urban Lab

Functional ultrasound imaging: an innovative technology for imaging brain activity

Urban 300 340 C1

Alan Urban, PhD

Assistant professor, Department of Neurosciences, KU Leuven
Group leader, NERF and VIB
Member of the Leuven Brain Institute

Contact & Bio

R&D of the next generation functional ultrasound imaging

The main objective of our multidisciplinary team is to develop the next generation of functional ultrasound imaging (fUSi) technology. We have 3 words in mind: faster, smaller, cheaper.

fUSi is a breakthrough modality based on Doppler ultrasound and is capable of recording in real-time activity over the entire brain at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution. The technology offers high sensitivity and reproducibility for neuroscience research in chronic and behaving animal models.

In collaboration with imec and several industrial partners, our team is developing the most versatile and costless ultrasound on silicon chip device on the market offering advanced 4D capabilities (3D in time) for preclinical and clinical research. By combining Micromachined Ultrasound Transducers (MUT) with high channels counts, wide bandwidth, high efficiency and ASIC technologies for real-time image processing and artificial intelligence analysis, we are extending the range of application for fUS imaging.

Interested to know more about the fUSi technology?

Picture1 Mg
Are these brain trees the key of our memory?
This filtered picture represents the blood vessels on the top of the right hemisphere of a mouse brain. The image by Micheline Grillet was selected for the Brain’Art Challenge 2018 and exposed at Liège Europa Expo.

Our scientific interests

Our team is interested in system neuroscience to understand the basic principles of brain organization, dynamics and function across a hierarchy of spatial and temporal scales. We are evaluating the fUSi capabilities for deciphering the mechanisms of neurovascular coupling, multi sensory integration and decision making. We are also studying the impact on brain function of several brain pathologies including Alzheimer Disease, stroke and glioma.

Our activities include translational research toward the use of fUSi in clinics with 2 main applications: i) non invasive brain mapping in newborns and ii) intra-operative guidance during neurosurgery in adults.


The fUSi technology hold great potential. But like for any innovative modality, fUSi hardware/software development and new data analysis must be accompanied by specialists of the field. Moreover, we believe that it is impossible to develop appropriate brain imaging technologies without being a pioneer in neuroscience research because to understand the brain we need more than physics. Therefore, our team unifies multidisciplinary engineers, neuroscientists and medical doctors to solve technical challenges for improving fUSi in a relevant way for the neuroscience community.

We are performing active neuroscience research within our laboratory and with collaborators to elucidate novel brain circuits and dynamics. All together, we combine expertize in neuroscience, biology, medicine, physics, acoustics, mathematics, electronics, programming and more.

Collaborative network

We aim to expand the fUSi technology and we are currently collaborating with a growing network of scientists in academic, clinic and industry located in Belgium and abroad (EU, UK and USA). It currently represents an active “fUSi community” of more than 25 principal investigators. We aim at establishing direct relationships with stakeholders, including patient associations and authorities towards an efficient transfer of our technologies to the market.

Some of our partners are presented below:

Partners2 Transp

Key publications

Émilie Macé, Gabriel Montaldo, Stuart Trenholm, Cameron Cowan, Alexandra Brignall, Alan Urban, Botond Roska, Whole-brain functional ultrasound imaging reveals brain modules for visuomotor integration, Neuron 100(5): 241-1251, 2018
Clément Brunner, Marie Korostelev, Sushmitha Raja, Gabriel Montaldo, Alan Urban, Jean-Claude Baron, Evidence from fUS imaging of enhanced contralesional microvascular response to somatosensory stimulation in acute middle cerebral artery occlusion/reperfusion in rats: A marker of ultra-early network reorganization?, JCBFM, 2018
Alan Urban, Lior Golgher, Clément Brunner, Amos Gdalyahu, Hagai Har-Gil, David Kain, Gabriel Montaldo, Laura Sironi, Pablo Blinder, Understanding the neurovascular unit at multiple scales: Advantages and limitations of multi-photon and functional ultrasound imaging, Adv Drug Deliv Rev, 119, 73-100, 2017
Alan Urban, Dussaux Clara, Guillaume Martel, Clément Brunner, Emilie Mace, Gabriel Montaldo, Real-time imaging of brain activity in freely moving rats using functional ultrasound, Nature Methods, 12, 873-8, 2015
J Rossier, A Bernard, J Cabungcal, Q Perrenoud, A Savoye, T Gallopin, M Hawrylycz, M Cuenod, K Do, Alan Urban, Ed Lein, Cortical fast-spiking parvalbumin interneurons enwrapped in the perineuronal net express the metallopeptidases Adamts8, Adamts15 and Neprilysin, Molecular Psychiatry, 20, 154-61, 2015
Alan Urban, Emilie Mace, Clément Brunner, Marc Heidmann, Jean Rossier, Gabriel Montaldo, Chronic assessment of cerebral hemodynamics during rat forepaw electrical stimulation using functional ultrasound imaging, Neuroimage 101, 138-49, 2014