As science fiction movies promised. A company called MARS Biomaging has developed the first X-ray scanner capable of displaying 3D images in full color. This is the biggest update of the technology since it was published approximately 100 years ago.
X-ray images are obtained when they travel through the body, are absorbed by denser materials such as bones and pass through the softer, such as muscles and other tissues. Then, X-rays that pass unhindered hit a film on the opposite side of your body and appear on the monitor as black areas. On the other hand, the places where X-rays can not pass appear white.
Now, physics professor Phil Butler and his son Anthony Butler, professor of bioengineering, have created a scanner that uses a combination of Medipix technology (developed for the first time to help CERN researchers track particles using the Large Collider Hadrons ), and computerized algorithms to produce colorful X-rays in 3D.
The Butler scanner, instead of recording the way X-rays pass through the body or are absorbed by the bone, records the precise energy levels of the X-rays as they hit each particle in your body. Then translate those measurements into different colors that represent your bones, muscles and other tissues.
While the black and white X-rays doctors use now are enough to know if a bone has a fracture, they reveal very little about the tissue and muscle that surrounds it. That’s why doctors could use these new 3D radiographs to help diagnose problems not only in the bone, but everything around it.
“This technology distinguishes our machine [in the way of diagnosing] because its small pixels and precise energy resolution means that this new tool can obtain images that no other tool can achieve,” said Phil Butler in a press release from CERN.
The scanner, which took 10 years to develop, is already being used for a series of studies that include cancer and stroke. “In all of these studies, promising early results suggest that when spectral imaging is used routinely in clinics, it will allow a more accurate diagnosis and personalization of the treatment,” Butler said.
The next step is to test the scanner in a trial focusing on orthopedic and rheumatology patients in New Zealand. But, even if everything goes well with that test, it could be years before the device obtains the regulatory approval it would need for its use to become widespread.
Scientific research may be motivated by curiosity, but it has a real impact on society since it allows the development of new technologies. For example, the current internet came out of CERN, and recently its creator was awarded the Turing prize.