X-ray imaging is getting an amazing update after over 12 decades. The identification of bone fractures or breaks before now has been effective using a high-contrast black and white image from the x-ray. But technology is offering full-color 3D X-ray images which provide more information, not just about bones. Meaning doctors can diagnose more challenges without cutting their patients open.

Developed by MARS Bioimaging, a medical research firm founded 11 years ago by Phil and Anthony Butler; father and son scientists, the full color 3D medical imaging scanner was developed in collaboration with the Universities of Otago and Canterbury and it features a technology developed at CERN.

How does MARS 3D X-ray scanner work?

To image the insides of a patient’s body, the traditional approach is to blast them with x-rays. And what matters in the technology is the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation used, which is shorter than visible light to enable its passage through soft tissue but not bones: the radiation doesn’t pass through harder materials. At the receiving end of the discharged radiation is a sensor or film which produces an image of the x-rays that has passed through the body based on its intensity, revealing the entire structure of the bone.

The MARS 3D X-ray scanner works in a similar fashion but also uses the Medipix chips, originally developed at the world's largest and most powerful particle collider, Large Hadron Collider. The Medixpix chips work just like a camera; every particle is detected and counted as the electronic shutter is opened, creating noise-free, accurate and high-resolution images.

When MARS scanner is used with Medipixchips, it produced striking, highly accurate, three-dimensional color renderings of the human body, distinguishing materials like soft tissues, metal, bone, and fat using different tones as the radiation travel through the human body. The Midipix chips simply enhance the data-processing algorithm of the scanner developed by father and son scientists Phil and Anthony Butler, detecting changes in wavelengths in the various materials. Additional software processes the data acquired to enhance the image quality, providing full-color images that can be viewed three-dimensionally.

Doctors can diagnose other health conditions

With the use of the full-colored 3D X-ray, doctors are now able to look for signs of fractures or break and other potentially dangerous medical conditions which black-and-white x-rays cannot provide. Some test versions of the 3D scans are reportedly being used to study cancer and joint/bone health in patients. Considering the quality of information provided by the technology, there’s no doubt about its usefulness in various medical fields including dentistry and brain surgery.

How soon are we having the new Spectral CT scanner?

Having undergone all the research stages at this point, clinical trials for the MARS medical scanner is yet to take place in New Zealand, hopefully in the coming months. However, hospital and clinics will not be able to lay hands on this medical equipment without all the necessary clearances and approvals which would take years from now.