Engineers and scientists build a revolutionary new device that scans the whole body 40 times faster than current PET scans are capable of, while composing a 3 dimensional image with unparalleled detail. It’s called EXPLORER and the new body scanner combines positron emission tomography with X-ray computed tomography. It is the brain child of scientists from UC Davis and engineers from Shanghai based United Imaging Healthcare.
“The level of detail was astonishing, especially once we got the reconstruction method a bit more optimized,” says Ramsey Badawi, chief of Nuclear Medicine at UC Davis Health. “We could see features that you just don’t see on regular PET scans. And the dynamic sequence showing the radiotracer moving around the body in three dimensions over time was, frankly, mind-blowing. There is no other device that can obtain data like this in humans, so this is truly novel.”
It is unheard of for an X-ray like device to scan the whole body in as short as 20 – 30 seconds. Furthermore EXPLORER significantly reduces the amount of radiation required to do so, eliminating a large chunk of cancer risk associated with conventional equipment. The new X-ray positron hybrid can observe biologically active molecules that would otherwise remain untapped beyond the veil of a microscope.
“The trade off between image quality, acquisition time and injected radiation dose will vary for different applications, but in all cases, we can scan better, faster or with less radiation dose, or some combination of these,” says Simon Cherry, from the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering.
However, the data is stitched together over a more significant duration 30-40 minutes long. What you end up with is a detailed 3 dimensional image that captures reality all the way down to a molecular level. Note that as virtual and augmented reality advance in lockstep with this kind of imaging technology you will see the two merge and complement one another. For example, as X-ray Positron scanners compile an image, surgeons wearing augmented reality headsets can visualize and transcribe an accurate representation of their body over-top of the real thing, allowing for less margin of error. In fact this is already being done. New and more accurate methods of 3 dimensional imaging will only add to the life saving potential.
Furthermore, with the ability to peer down to a degree of molecular resolution unparalleled by modern day scanning equipment comes the possibility of visualizing blood flow in real time. This would allow a doctor to observe how your body is reacting glucose for example, in the case of a diabetic. Or even more importantly – how your body reacts to pharmaceutical treatments as they happen, preventing the trial-error type dice game being played right now.
“I don’t think it will be long before we see at a number of EXPLORER systems around the world,” says Cherry. “But that depends on demonstrating the benefits of the system, both clinically and for research. Now, our focus turns to planning the studies that will demonstrate how EXPLORER will benefit our patients and contribute to our knowledge of the whole human body in health and disease.”
This research was presented at the upcoming Radiological Society of North America Annual Meeting in Chicago.