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New Zealand scientists revolutionise x-ray technology

New Zealand scientists have produced the first ever 3D, colour x-ray images of the human body, in a development revolutionising x-ray technology.

The MARS Programme, a joint initiative between the universities of Canterbury and Otago and MARS Bioimaging Ltd, is producing a spectral molecular scanner which provides 3D colour images of objects inside the body such as bone, soft tissue, and artificial joints.

One of the lead researchers, Professor Anthony Butler, says: “This spectral molecular imaging technology really is the next big medical imaging innovation, and these 3D images will provide clinicians with information that is currently not possible in CT, MRI or PET scans.

“The implications of this research will be huge for the medical profession. The capability of this scanner will enable greater diagnosis and monitoring of many diseases, and will lead to better outcomes for patients – particularly in stroke prevention, joint replacement and cancer management.”

New Zealand has a history of innovation in medical technology and devices, with strong biological and medical science sectors combining with specialised science and electronics knowledge, and advanced materials expertise.

The MARS project is the result of successful government, academic and corporate support, including: New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE); the MedTech Centre of Research Excellence, a world-leading research platform in medical device technologies linking activities at New Zealand universities and research institutes; and major corporate GE Healthcare.

The breakthrough scanner is based on Medipix3 technology developed at CERN. The spectroscopic information generated by the Medipix3 enabled detector combines with powerful algorithms to generate 3D images. The colours represent different energy levels of the x-ray photons as recorded by the detector, identifying different components of body parts such as fat, water, calcium, and disease markers.

In the coming months, orthopaedic and rheumatology patients in New Zealand will be scanned by the MARS scanner in a clinical trial that is a world first, paving the way for a potentially routine use of this new generation equipment.

In the meantime, MARS Bioimaging has been using live events and roadshows to introduce the new technology to the market in the USA, China and India. Exhibiting at the RSNA (Radiological Society of North America) event in the US was combined with presentations outlining the clinical applications of MARS spectral imaging technology at UMass School of Medicine, UMass Lowell, Massachusetts General Hospital, John Hopkins University, the FDA, University of Houston, MD Anderson, Bayler College of Medicine, Stanford University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The events have resulted in the signing of two bilateral agreements for technical and academic collaboration.

MARS Bioimaging also attended Fully3D in Xi’an, one of the leading conferences in nuclear medicine and molecular imaging held in China; and a further roadshow in India showcasing MARS spectral CT technology in hospitals and universities in six cities. The company is now due to present at IEEE NSS/MIC 2018 (The Nuclear Science Symposium and Medical Imaging Conference) in Sydney, in November.

Professor Butler adds: “The technology also has significant financial benefits, with the potential to add more than $50 million per year to the New Zealand economy once the manufactured products arising from this research are in regular use in hospitals.

“We will also be exploring potential applications in other industries such as border security, forestry, agriculture and mining.”