If you’ve ever broken a bone, chances are you’ve seen one of the standard black-and-white X-ray images that physicians have been using to diagnose internal injuries for decades. But this technique – and even the more recent modalities like CT and MRI scans – can provide only a limited glimpse of the state of tissues and structures underneath our skin.
A new platform developed by imaging researchers at CERN could change all that.
The breakthrough Medipix3 scanner creates high-resolution, 3D, color images of living structures. Born from technology designed to track particles in the Large Hadron Collider, the Medipix3 works by emitting a targeted beam of electromagnetic radiation at the frequency of X rays at the object of interest, then detecting, counting, and differentiating every particle, or photon, that hits its sensor on the other side – sort of like a souped-up version of a typical digital camera.
Next, the device’s advanced algorithms interpret the spectroscopic information and convert it into images. The high sensitivity and accuracy of the scanner allows for an unprecedented visualization of all the varied substances within the human body, such as fat, liquids, and different minerals. And as demonstrated by the image with the wristwatch, the platform can also easily differentiate metals.
In contrast, a traditional X-ray scanner works by emitting a wave of X-ray radiation at a biological structure and detecting the particles that pass through using light-sensitive film or a sensor. Since the rays pass through less dense materials (like fluid and fat) more easily and lose less energy in doing so, the image created on the other side is much like a shadow of the heavier structures in your body. But these old-school sensors and film are not very good at differentiating the energy levels of the particles that strike them, resulting in a low-resolution image that fails to capture the numerous types of similarly dense tissue and subtle variations and abnormalities that could represent disease.