X-rays are essential to medical practice. They help us identify anatomical structures and health problems that cannot be seen through the human eye. Foreign objects, bone fractures, tumors, you name it; a radiologist or technologist can detect it with the use of X-ray technology!
However, what many don’t realize is that X-ray technology continues to grow at a much faster pace than what most could assume! Since the first piece of X-ray technology was introduced in 1896, engineers seek to find new and innovative alternatives to further efficiency of care for future patients. Particularly, new technologies aim to build upon previous X-ray imaging applications to make final images and machinery more clear, compact, and accessible for the medical professionals involved with associated medical processes.
Keeping this in mind, what new technologies have been introduced? How were they augmented?
Duke University - Hybrid X-Ray Prototype
Last year, one of the new prototypes that were created focused on not only showing images of the anatomical structures but also providing insight into the molecular composition of said structures. This, particularly, is revolutionary: X-ray images were previously only able to help radiologists accurately determine a presence of a bone, tumor, or organ–not the specific and atomic biological components that make them up. Fields such as pathology, drug inspection, and cancer surgery could be highly impacted by this discovery, as many invasive procedures can potentially be discarded in favor of this new technology/approach.
How does it work? The prototype systems combine the functionalities of both X-ray diffraction tomography and X-ray transmission radiography. With half of its basis reflective of X-ray diffraction tomography, it aids in determining molecular composition through gathering information pertaining to scattered deflection angles and wavelengths. With the latter function, measurements of the rays passing through the structure or organ are gained to support molecular findings and diagnoses. These components provide a visualized “fingerprint” of the scanned object’s atomic structure, specifying the image for further introspection.
The only caveat to this prototype, at the moment, is that the scattered X-ray signal is weaker than that of previous X-ray technologies. A lot of this is due to the fact that since the prototype is created with a hybrid focus, the complexity leads to a longer delay in the gathering of data and the delivery of the images. The engineers from Duke University plan to implement a coded aperture (a shield that enhances the transfer of differently-angled rays) as an addition to their prototype to shorten the time taken to scan and identify materials. With this component, a test revealed that the X-ray scanner was able to match clinical diagnoses of potentially cancerous tissues and differentiate between the different subtypes of tissue in and around cancer areas.
Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital - Portable X-ray Technology
In previous x-ray technologies, the lack of portability contributed to time consumption and frustrated patients. At Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, they have utilized portable x-ray technologies as a competitive advantage against other hospitals throughout the nation. However, even their technologies would contribute to a loss of time; if a patient or technologist made a mistake as a scan is being made, the technologist would only know of this mistake as they leave the patient’s room and enter their Radiology Department’s workstation. This would result in having to have the patient make another visit to retrieve the appropriate images. So what is the solution?
To counter this issue, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital decided to up the portability of their newest X-ray technology.
In addition to using a portable X-ray scanner, technology concerning the digital detector plates components has been updated to ensure faster processing of images. Once images are complete, a new process is used in conjunction with previous portable technology, as the images are then sent to a handheld tablet compatible with the portable X-ray scanner.
The difference in time between the previous and current X-ray technology interventions is astonishing. With the previous technology, mistakes would lead to more patient visits, patient dissatisfaction, and loss of appointment space that could’ve been used by other patients. When considering the administrative work and scheduling efforts, this is a very considerable amount of time lost.
With this new technology, mistakes could be fixed within minutes. As the X-ray takes a scan of the patient, the digital detector plates allow the processing of these images to only take a few seconds, and are then immediately sent to the tablet for review. If a mistake is apparent within the images, the technologist can catch it right away and perform another scan for the patient.
A great aspect of this technology is that, unbeknownst to many medical practitioners, they would not need to worry much about any abuses of X-ray scanning with this setup. Since the new plates require less radiation to process and construct the images, this technology is more considerate of the safety of the patients than previous technologies used. Talk about a win-win situation!
Thank you so much for reading!
- Ashlyn Southerland
Duke University. (2021, June 8). X-ray scanner spots cancers and analyzes drugs in minutes. https://pratt.duke.edu/about/news/x-ray-scanner-prototype#:~:text=With%20unprecedented%20resolution%20and%20accuracy,bomb%20detection%20for%20aviation%20security.
Mass General Brigham - Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. (n.d.). https://www.brighamandwomensfaulkner.org/about-bwfh/news/new-portable-x-ray-technology-improves-workflow-and-patient-safety
Stryker, S., et al. (2021) X-ray fan beam coded aperture transmission and diffraction imaging for fast material analysis. Scientific Reports. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-90163-0.