The x-ray technology hasn’t changed much since it was first discovered by William Roentgen in 1895. Over a century has passed and this technique still produces just a simple flat, black and white image. It is a brilliant invention that is completely outdated compared to how other technological advancements have evolved. But now, finally, the first test of a new full color, 3D x-ray machine has been conducted on a human. The results are absolutely revolutionary.
What Are X-Rays?
X-rays are a type of electromagnetic energy wave. It is the same energy that makes up visible light but at wavelengths about 1000 times smaller. The x-rays small wavelength size make it possible for them to penetrate the human body, unlike light that bounces off.
To produce an x-ray image, an x-ray sensitive film or sensor is placed on one side and x-rays are emitted on the other. Dense material like bone that blocks the x-rays will appear white on the film, while soft tissue appears in shades of gray, and air appears black.
The Updated Version
While the traditional x-ray machine can reveal bones or tumors relatively well, the updated x-ray machine (the MARS Spectral X-ray Scanner) is able to reveal details of bones, soft tissue and other components of the body with incredible clarity, 3D, and in color. Doctors could use these new 3D x-rays to help diagnose issues in the bone and everything around it, too.
How is this possible?
The scanner uses a highly sensitive chip called the Medipix3. This chip acts like the sensor in a digital camera, except much more advanced. It can count the photons hitting each pixel and determine their energy level, then send that data to a computer.
From that information, a series of algorithms is then able to determine the position of things like bone, fat, cartilage and other tissues. It then translates those measurements into different colors, each representing a different element of the body.
The Medipix3 was developed from a technology used to detect particles in a device called the Large Hadron Collider – the world’s largest particle accelerator – a technology that was created by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).
Phil and Anthony Butler are father and son, physics professor and bioengineering professor, and business partners. Their company, MARS Bioimaging, has been working on its first-of-its-kind x-ray scanner for a long time. It has taken 10 years of work and refinement to make this machine a reality.
Phil Butler said in a press release:
“[T]his 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.”
For now, the MARS scanner is only being used in a few studies, including some focused on cancer and strokes. Next, they plan to test out their scanner in a trial focused on orthopedic and rheumatology patients in New Zealand.
However, you won’t see this machine at any hospital or clinic any time soon. It could still be years before the device secures the regulatory approval it would need for its use to become widespread, even if all goes well with all their trials and testing.