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. Father and son scientists Professors Phil and Anthony Butler from Canterbury and Otago Universities developed the MARS colour X-ray imaging technique that could produce clearer and more accurate pictures and help doctors give their patients more accurate diagnoses.
“The MARS spectral x-ray scanner will revolutionise medical imaging globally – and as a result the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer and heart disease – because it provides far greater detail of the body’s chemical components,” a statement issued by the Universities of Otago and Canterbury said.
The MARS CT scanner has been designed to produce images with significantly improved diagnostic information. It measures the x-ray spectrum to produce colour images instead of black-and-white ones and shows different components of body parts such as fat, water, calcium, and disease markers. The MARS scanner combines Medipix3 technology and computer algorithms to produce coloured, 3D X-rays.
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 highresolution, high-contrast, very reliable images, making it unique for imaging applications in particular in the medical field.
The Butlers adapted technology used by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in the hunt for the ‘God particle’ into a medical scanner.
Small versions of the scanner that can house tissue samples are already in use in research institutions around the world. The first human has now been scanned through a larger form of the scanner. Professor Phil Butler was the first person to be scanned. His ankle and wrist were imaged.
The Butlers and their growing team of scientists have been supported over the past decade of developing the machine by the Universities of Otago and Canterbury; the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment; and GE Healthcare. MARS Bioimaging Ltd (MBI) has commercialised the product.
“X-ray spectral information allows health professionals to measure the different components of body parts such as fat, water, calcium, and disease markers. Traditional black-andwhite x-rays only allow measurement of the density and shape of an object,” Professor Anthony Butler says.
He added, “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.”
In the coming months, orthopaedic and rheumatology patients in New Zealand will be scanned by the revolutionary MARS scanner in a clinical trial that is a world first, paving the way to a potentially routine use of this new generation equipment.