CERN Technology Powers World’s First 3-D Color X-Ray of a Human

New bioimaging scanner creates startlingly detailed images of human tissue for improved diagnostics and treatment.

Despite technological advancements, medical X-ray scans are still only available in black and white. While the contrast helps doctors detect breaks in bones, the lack of detail makes it a limited diagnostic tool.

A New Zealand company is proposing a solution. Mars Bioimaging has developed a scanner that can produce detailed 3D color images of bones and soft tissue, thanks to a sensor chip developed at CERN for use in the Large Hadron Collider.

The scanner is based on a hybrid pixel detector chip created by CERN to track and image quantum particles. The chip works like a camera, detecting and counting each individual particle hitting the pixels when its electronic shutter is open.

Mars’ scanner, called the Spectral CT, measures specific wavelengths of X-rays as they pass through various materials, but in much more detail than commonly-used X-ray devices. The scanner then runs the data through algorithms to generate a detailed 3D-colored image. The colors represent different energy levels of the X-ray photons recorded by the detector.

This enables high-resolution, high-contrast, reliable images that depict a thoroughly detailed rendering of the human body. It shows not only bone but also blood, tissue, fat, water, calcium and disease markers. It even shows the inner workings of a wristwatch.

Mars Bioimaging is working to give traditional X-ray imaging a groundbreaking upgrade.

“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,” said Phil Butler, chief executive officer of Mars. He also co-developed the scanner with his son Anthony, who is Mars’ chief medical officer.

Researchers have been using a small version of the scanner to study cancer, bone and joint health, as well as 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 personalization of treatment,” Anthony Butler said.