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.

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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.

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MARS Bioimaging Ltd, which is commercialising the 3D scanner, is linked to the Universities of Otago and Canterbury.

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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 and hence identifying different components of body parts such as fat, water, calcium, and disease markers.

A 3D image of a wrist with a watch showing part of the finger bones in white and soft tissue in red. (Image: MARS Bioimaging Ltd)

So far, researchers have been using a small version of the MARS scanner to study cancer, bone and joint health, and vascular diseases that cause heart attacks and strokes. “In all of these studies, promising early results suggest that when spectral imaging is routinely used in clinics it will enable more accurate diagnosis and personalisation of treatment,” Professor Anthony Butler says.

Source: First 3D colour X-ray of a human using CERN technology | CERN