X-rays are pretty old hat in the medical world. First discovered and utilised by the German engineer and scientist Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895, they’ve been one of the most used medical diagnosis tools since. However, their use and operation has remained the same for the last century; flat, two dimensional images with wispy features that means you need specialist training to see what’s going on. Scientists at CERN have now developed a new way to use x-rays, and boy does their solution look good.
CERN’s new x-ray technology allows the recording of images in three dimensions and in colour. Using the Medipix3, a CMOS pixel detector readout chip, connected to a segmented semiconductor sensor, it acts like a real camera. It has small detection sensors and also uses particle tracking technology to help produce extremely high resolution images in real time. Just note that the Medipix3 has applications beyond medical diagnosis.
Professor Phil Butler is one of the two MARS Bioimaging Ltd scientists who built the scanner using the Medipix3 chip. He said that the “(Medipix3’s) small pixels and accurate energy resolution mean that this new imaging tool is able to get images that no other imaging tool can achieve”.
His team used the Medipix3 chip’s imaging output and combined it with some very smart algorithms which allowed them to produce high resolution colour images in three dimensions. Even more impressive, the images allow the viewer to distinguish between water, bone, normal tissues, fat and signs of disease. A smaller version of the scanner is being built to study cancer and cardio-vascular diseases.
MARS and CERN won’t be keeping the technology to themselves. They are moving towards commercialisation of the new x-ray imaging technology through a licensing agreement. The first use of the scanner – in clinical trials anyway – will be involving rheumatology and orthopedic patients. I too look forward to looking at my broken bones in all its gory detail soon.