How the latest imaging technology could revolutionise healthcare

21st April 2016

Medical imaging devices are an essential part of modern medicine in helping clinicians assess a range of conditions quickly and non-invasively. As the technology continues to improve, the next generation of imaging tools promise even better diagnostic accuracy, efficiency and patient safety.



There are several types of medical imaging currently available, including X-rays, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They aren’t without problems, however, with the FDA cautioning that the ionising radiation of an X-ray may be slightly carcinogenic. This can be a particular problem for patients who require frequent scans, whether for early disease detection or to monitor ongoing treatment.
 
We look at some next-generation medical imaging technologies that address these problems and help clinicians assess a range of conditions quickly and non-invasively.
 
Scanning with soundwaves
 
Ultrasound scans can offer a viable alternative to radiation-based options. An example is photoacoustic mammography (PAM). Recent studies have found PAM to be effective in detecting the growth of new blood vessels around tumours, helping to facilitate earlier breast-cancer detection.
 
A team at Kyoto University is currently working on a method that combines acoustic imaging with laser light exposure to build detailed 3D images of the target tissue, without the risks associated with CT and other X-ray-based scanning techniques.
 
As well as earlier detection, this also allows for more precise targeting of malignant cells, sparing healthy tissue and potentially improving survival rates for a wide range of cancer types.
 
Lasers improving eye care
 
More Australians are facing vision problems as the population ages. For eye-health professionals, this mean it is imperative they are able to diagnose eye problems earlier, at reduced cost and with better accuracy.
 
An accurate image of the retina is central to the diagnosis and treatment of a host of eye disorders, from hereditary conditions such as macular degeneration to problems resulting from diabetes, hypertension and other diseases. Lasers are already used to perform retinal examinations, but using current technology, the scan image can be blurred by movement of the eye during recording and aberrations within the structure of the eye itself.
 
The adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope (AO-SLO) being developed by Canon in collaboration with Kyoto University addresses these issues by using a wavefront correction device that compensates for such aberrations, along with intelligent image processing that corrects for eye movements. The result is more minutely detailed images, and hence the possibility of earlier detection of eye disorders.
 
By combining safety with diagnostic precision, the next wave of imaging technologies is set to transform how illnesses are treated while reducing healthcare costs and improving hopes for patients. Photoacoustic mammography and adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope are only just a fraction of the possibilities in imaging technology, and it will be technologies like these that will take diagnosis to the next level.
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