Scientists from New Zealand have performed the first-ever 3-D, colour X-ray on a human body, using the imaging technology developed for the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN physics lab. Scientists claim that this new imaging technology will help in providing more information about the tissues and mass surrounding the bones, something that was not possible with traditional X-ray imaging.
What if, instead of a black and white X-ray picture, a doctor of a cancer patient had access to colour images identifying the tissues being scanned? This colour X-ray imaging technique could produce clearer and more accurate pictures and help doctors give their patients more accurate diagnoses. This is now a reality, thanks to a New-Zealand company that scanned, for the first time, a human body using a breakthrough colour medical scanner based on the Medipix3 technology developed at CERN. Father and son scientists Professors Phil and Anthony Butler from Canterbury and Otago Universities spent a decade building and refining their product. Medipix is a family of read-out chips for particle imaging and detection. The original concept of Medipix is that it works like a camera, detecting and counting each individual particle hitting the pixels when its electronic shutter is open. This enables high-resolution, high-contrast, very reliable images, making it unique for imaging applications in particular in the medical field.
Hybrid pixel-detector technology was initially developed to address the needs of particle tracking at the Large Hadron Collider, and successive generations of Medipix chips have demonstrated over 20 years the great potential of the technology outside of high-energy physics. MARS Bioimaging Ltd, which is commercialising the 3D scanner, is linked to the University of Otago and Canterbury. The latter together with more than 20 research institutes forms the third generation of Medipix collaboration. The Medipix3 chip is the most advanced chip available today and Professor Phil Butler recognises that “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.” MARS’ solution couples the spectroscopic information generated by the Medipix3 enabled detector with powerful algorithms to generate 3D images. The colours represent different energy levels of the X-ray photons as recorded by the detector hence identifying different components of body parts such as fat, water, calcium, and disease markers.