If you have ever broken a bone, you might have seen an X-ray showing the fracture in black and white. X-rays are actually a form of electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than visible light. It passes through soft tissues more readily than denser materials like bones. A sensor or film on the opposite side of your body captures the intensity of the X-rays and produces the signature B&W image.
It might surprise you to know that X-rays have been around for over a hundred years.
In 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, rector at the University of Würzburg in Germany, discovered an unknown type of fluorescent light ray which he dubbed X-radiation to signify an unknown type of radiation. The following year, he showed an X-ray photograph of his wife’s hand to the Würzburg Physical and Medical Society. One month after that, a German doctor used an X-ray to diagnose sarcoma (cancer) of the tibia in a young boy’s right leg.
Since 1896, doctors have used two-dimensional black-and-white X-rays to detect physical injury as well as treat diseases like cancer.
Those days are about to end as the world of medical technology advances toward solutions envisioned by science fiction writers: color X-rays displayed in three dimensions (3D)!
MARS Bioimaging Ltd. is a New Zealand enterprise that used Medipix3, a technology developed for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland to create the first-ever color medical scanner. A Forbes article explains how colored images are produced:
“Medipix are a group of particle imaging and detection chips which work in the same way as a camera. They detect and count each and every individual particle hitting the detector and depending on how many x-rays hit a certain area, a different color will be assigned.”
A Medipix3-enabled scanner features extremely fine resolution at the pixel level. (A pixel is the smallest unit of a digital image or graphic that can be displayed.) After all, it was developed to track sub-atomic particles.
Professor Phil Butler, one of the 3D color scanner’s inventors, stated that “this new imaging tool is able to get images that no other imaging tool can achieve.”
The 3D color images make a clear visual distinction between fat, water, and disease markers. Series of scanned images of a human body part, displayed sequentially, display a video in slices similar to an animator’s flip-book. Alternatively, an entire body part can be displayed in color and rotated in three dimensions for high-resolution examination.
CERN and MARS have signed a licensing agreement. We can expect a commercial roll-out to follow.
CERN has a Knowledge Transfer Group whose Officer Aurélie Pezous explained why the sub-atomic explorers would cooperate with a commercial venture:
“It is always satisfying to see our work leveraging benefits for patients around the world. Real-life applications such as this one fuels our efforts to reach even further.”
Imagine how many diagnoses will be made possible without surgery by this new futuristic medtech! Secondary medical disorders may well be detected while looking for a primary ailment or disorder.
On the horizon: rheumatology and orthopedic patients will participate in the first worldwide clinical trials later this year.