Image Credit: University of Canterbury

Image Credit: University of Canterbury

University of Canterbury father and son scientists develop 3D coloured medical scanner for NZ patients

A new revolutionary 3D coloured medical scanner has scanned its first human. The scanner was invented by a tandem of father and son scientists from the University of Canterbury and University of Otago in New Zealand.

According to the report made by the University of Canterbury, the MARS spectral x-ray scanner produces 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 scanner provides far greater detail of the body’s chemical components, improving on the existing medical imaging, which can change the diagnosis and treatments of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. 

Professor Phil Butler and his son, Professor Anthony Butler are the scientists behind the MARS spectral x-ray scanner. Professor Phil Butler is a physicist working at the University of Canterbury while his son, Professor Anthony Butler is a radiologist and a Professor at both the University of Otago and the University of Canterbury.

Professor Anthony Butler differentiated the coloured images from the black-and-white ones saying that the x-ray spectral information allows health professionals to measure the different components of body parts such as fat, water, calcium, and disease markers, whereas traditional black-and-white x-rays only allow measurement of the density and shape of an object.

A technology used by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) was adapted by the Butlers as they turned the ‘God particle’ into a medical scanner.

Professor Butler explained that it is the Medpix3 technology of CERN which sets the machine apart diagnostically because its small pixels and accurate energy resolution mean it can get images no other imaging tool can.

Various research institutions around the world already have small versions of the scanner that can house tissue samples.

The smaller version of the MARS scanner is being used by researchers for the study of cancer, bone and joint health, and vascular diseases that can cause heart attacks and strokes.

These studies have produced promising early results suggesting that when spectral imaging is regularly used in clinics, it will enable more accurate diagnosis and personalisation of treatment.

A larger form of the scanner had scanned its first human. Professor Phil Butler, himself, was scanned. His ankle and wrist were imaged.

More patients will get to try the scanner in the coming months as the next step in development is an imminent clinical trial where orthopaedic and rheumatology patients from Christchurch will be scanned. The world-first clinical trial will allow the MARS team to compare the images produced by their scanner with the technology currently used in New Zealand hospitals.

Professor Anthony Butler explained that after a decade in development, it is really exciting to have reached a point where it is clear that the technology could be used for routine patient care.

He likened the new imaging scanner to a new microscope wherein biomedical researchers can see different kinds of details inside patients in a non-invasive manner.

Support has been given to the Butlers and their growing team of scientists, during their decade-long development of the machine, by the University of Canterbury and the University of Otago, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and GE Healthcare. In fact, MARS Bioimaging Ltd (MBI) has commercialised the product.

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