This New 3D X-Ray Scanner Can Spot Deadly Diseases Without Surgery

July 25, 2018 - 4 minutes read

Across the world from our Los Angeles studio, New Zealand researchers have developed MedTech that maps a 3D image of x-ray scans. Most of us are used to seeing x-rays in greyscale. Taking inspiration from the Large Hadron Collider (the famous European particle accelerator facility), this technology adds color into the mix. And it could change how doctors diagnose ailments.

Behind the Pixels

That’s right — we’ve had the technology to better image our own bodies for years. But it’s the innovative thinking by father-son duo Drs. Phil and Anthony Butler that’s bringing the technology to healthcare systems all over the world.

The technology behind the new scanner is interesting: it works like a camera, counting subatomic particles when the scanner is capturing the image. The data is translated into pixels that come together to create a very high-quality series of “slices” (photographs of cross-sections) that image bone, fat, muscle, skin, blood systems, and much more.

Typically, with the current state of x-rays, beams are sent through tissue; the white parts of the x-ray image are dense bone that absorbed the rays, while the black areas are soft tissues that didn’t absorb any beams. With the new technology, the scanner is given a set of colors that match each of the materials that the x-ray wavelengths find. The final 3D image is compiled from all of the slices generated by the tool.

Tapping into the Potential of Physics

Aurélie Pezous is an engineer working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Pezous’s job is to promote applications in other fields, and she says, “This is the beauty of it: Technology that was first intended for the field of high-energy physics is being used to improve society. It’s very exciting for CERN.”

Anthony, a radiologist, says, “It really is like the upgrade from black-and-white film to color. It’s a whole new X-ray experience.” Anthony’s father, Phil, works as a physicist. Phil adds, “This technology sets the machine apart diagnostically because its small pixels and accurate energy resolution mean that this new imaging tool is able to get images that no other imaging tool can achieve.”

Dr. Gary E. Friedlaender is a Yale University orthopedic surgeon; he helps patients by treating bone cancers in complicated cases, like bone cancer in the pelvis or in the skull. Friedlaender says this technology will be invaluable for diagnosing and treating. He adds, “It’s about being able to first find the explanation for somebody’s symptoms, like a tumor, and then find the best way to reach it with the least amount of detours and misadventures. We want to minimize the damage to normal tissues.”

A Technicolorized Future

The father-son duo want to eventually use the technology on the whole body. Until then, to study the efficacy of the tool, they’re leading a clinical trial in New Zealand for rheumatology and orthopedic patients. It’s also being used in some cancer and stroke studies. Anthony adds, “In all of these studies, promising early results suggest that when spectral imaging is routinely used in clinics, it will enable more accurate diagnosis and personalization of treatment.”

Would you try out this new technology on your body? Although the consequences of using such a tool aren’t fully known yet, it could change diagnosis and minimize the need for invasive surgery.

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