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New X-ray tech provides clear view of soft tissues

By

December 11, 2013

An X-ray of a human wrist demonstrates the system's ability to reveal soft-tissue structur...

An X-ray of a human wrist demonstrates the system's ability to reveal soft-tissue structures and very fine detail (Photo: MIT)

Image Gallery (2 images)

X-ray machines are all large devices that can only image hard structures such as bone, unless a contrast-enhancing solution such as barium is present in the patient ... right? Well, no, not all of them. A new system developed by researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital is small enough to be considered portable, doesn't expose patients to as much radiation, and can image soft tissues in minute detail.

Ordinarily, X-ray machines emit beams of electromagnetic radiation from a single source. The experimental new machine, however, utilizes "a nanostructured surface with an array of tiny tips," each one of those micron-sized tips emitting its own beam of electrons. Those beams pass through a microstructured plate, and are converted into X-rays.

The resulting wider, more even spread of beams is what makes it possible for the machine to image soft tissues, without the need for contrast agents – such solutions take time to inject or administer orally, and some of them can be potentially harmful to the patient.

Additionally, unlike a conventional thermionic X-ray machine, the new device can be quickly turned on and off without needing time to heat up. This should minimize the amount of radiation received by the patient.

The production model is expected to be even smaller than the already-compact prototype, se...

The current prototype is reportedly about the size of a shoebox, making it quite portable – production models are expected to be even smaller. This means that they could be used in the field for things like inspecting the integrity of composite materials, or checking carry-on baggage at airports.

According to senior researcher Luis Velásquez-García, the system "could potentially improve the resolution of X-ray imagery by a factor of 100 with hardware that costs orders of magnitude less." The technology still needs to be developed for two to three years, however, with commercialization taking a few years longer.

Source: MIT

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
5 Comments

"X-ray machines are all large devices that can only image hard structures such as bone, unless a contrast-enhancing solution such as barium is present in the patient ... right? Well, no, not all of them."

Correct!

Mammography has been around for decades with the purpose of imaging only soft tissues.

Australian
12th December, 2013 @ 02:12 am PST

"the new device can be quickly turned on and off without needing time to heat up. This should minimize the amount of radiation received by the patient."

The amount of radiation received by the patien doesn´t depend on the time to "heat up the tube" that amount greatly depends on the energy of the beam, this is the higher the Kv, the lower the radiation absorved by the patient.

Low Kv radiography such as mamography (soft tissue) implies a grater dose of radiation in the patient.

The radiation absorved by the patient´s tissue is what it makes possible a contrast in the image at the captor device ( film, solid state detector etc).

if there were no x rays absorved by the tissue then there will be no image ( no contrast)

This device would improve the efficiency of x ray production, which is around 1% in the conventional tubes, this is 99% heat , 1% X rays.

This device is to x ray tubes what leds are to thermoluminiscent devices.

They are much more efficient then the size shrinks a lot

The final X rays are the same, but I understand that are very similar to low energy X rays, allowing to get contrast in soft tissue.

jorgelansi
12th December, 2013 @ 11:09 am PST

Why would a doctor want to use something this simple when they could just give you a $5K MRI instead?

estelja
12th December, 2013 @ 03:11 pm PST

Very impressive if it pans out. I've always thought that x ray pictures look abysmal, ill defined, cloudy, and are incredibly hard to read. A doctor can even point out fractures and other problems and most people would just say, uh, OK, if you say so. It's certainly about time somebody ups the quality of these things big time.

And then of course CT uses x ray, so wouldn't this pose a drastic improvement for that as well?

HerrDrPantagruel
13th December, 2013 @ 06:35 pm PST

In the picture very fine structure of the bones can be seen clearly...but about the soft tissue?...definitely not "demonstrated" Well, you guess it is there.

(The most absurd part of this comment is the fact that I used to be a radiologist.)

nehopsa
19th December, 2013 @ 10:01 am PST
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