X-rays transformed medicine a century ago by providing a noninvasive way to detect internal structures in the body. Still, they have limitations: X-rays cannot image the body’s soft tissues, except with the use of contrast-enhancing agents that must be swallowed or injected, and their resolution is limited.
But a new approach developed by researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) could dramatically change that, enabling the most detailed images ever — including clear views of soft tissue without any need for contrast agents.
The new technology “could make X-rays ubiquitous, because of its higher resolution, the fact that the dose would be smaller and the hardware smaller, cheaper, and more capable than current X-rays,” says Luis Velásquez-García, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories and senior author of the PowerMEMS paper.
Velásquez-García says that while conventional X-ray systems show little or no structure in most soft tissues — including all of the body’s major organ systems — the new system would show these in great detail. A test the team performed with an eye from a cadaver using X-rays from a particle accelerator clearly shows “all the structures, the lens and the cornea,” he says. “In time we are confident our system will be able to achieve such resolution with a far simpler and cheaper device.”
The key is to produce coherent beams of X-rays from an array of micron-sized point sources, instead of a spread from a single, large point as in conventional systems, Velásquez-García explains. The team’s approach includes developing hardware that is an innovative application of batch microfabrication processes used to make microchips for computers and electronic devices.
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald, Mariano Fernandez S.