© MARS Bioimaging

X-rays reach new dimensions

X-ray images will soon be more detailed than ever before.

MARS Bioimaging Ltd has revealed a first-of-its-kind X-ray scanner that creates 3D colour images of muscle, fat and skin, as well as the usual information about bone.

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Normal X-rays pass through soft structures and are absorbed by bone, with images then created based on levels of absorption. This new scanner records the precise energy levels of the X-rays as they hit each particle in the section of the body that’s being scanned. Those measurements are then translated into different colours, presenting a realistic-looking image that differentiates between components like fat, water, muscle and bone.

While traditional X-rays are usually sufficient for picking up fractures, they reveal very little about the surrounding structures. A small version of the MARS scanner has already been used to study cancer, vascular disease, and bone and joint health, with promising early results. In the coming months, the scanner will be used in a clinical trial on orthopaedic and rheumatology patients in New Zealand, where MARS Bioimaging is based.

The MediPix3 pixel-detector technology involved was originally developed at CERN for particle tracking in the Large Hadron Collider, and has since been modified by MARS for medical applications.

This is an extract from issue 326 of BBC Focus magazine.

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