Flat Panel X-Ray, Low cost Radiology, Direct Digital, Applied Nanotechnology

Applied Nanotechnology and simple mirrors allow for deep reduction in medical imaging costs, increase in quality.

(Wilhelm Röntgen’s first “medical” X-ray, of his wife’s hand, taken in 1895)

For well over one hundred years doctors have shot X-rays through people to capture images in Silver halide crystallites on photographic film to aid in medical diagnostics.

Such a valuable tool was worth the expense and trouble of messing with toxic chemical developers and the bulky storage of film negatives.

(First digital image scanned into a computer showed the researcher’s baby son, 1957.)

The digital revolution at first offered only a storage solution of scanning X-rays into computers for safe keeping and sharing between doctors (“CR” Computed Radiology).

The direct digital capture (“DR” Digital Radiology) of X-rays passing through the body became viable only about 10 years ago and has proved to be a be a significant advancement for diagnosticians, but at a significant cost.

The process of recording X-rays directly relied on a flat panel receptor with up to 9 million individual pixels to receive and register the x-rays and then pass on the information so that the computer could compile a high-resolution digital image. For the panel to capture the intense energy of the X-rays directly and not burn out required it to operate at extremely high voltages too, creating a lot of heat that then had to be cooled.

This was an elaborate and expensive solution that suited the big developers of the day because it justified a high price tag on their systems. Because at the time there was no other digital technology available, hospitals and group practices bought into it but independent practitioners could never justify the investment.

In 1991 digital cameras came on the market replacing film in common photographic applications, but at only 1.3 million pixels and a limited 8-bit analog-to-digital converter, the image resolution wasn’t high enough to be considered for use in such a demanding application as medical imaging.

Today, Nanotechnology has raised the bar on digital cameras allowing for twelve million pixels to capture optical images through the lens without the use of high voltages.

In the ADDIS System of digital X-ray imaging the high voltage 9 megapixel flat panel receptor has been replaced with a “scintillator”, a non-powered panel that simply lights up when struck by X-rays, providing the 12 megapixel digital camera with an optical image to shoot, resulting in a 3 million pixel advantage while using nothing more than 12 volt DC power.

Today’s digital cameras have advanced to 12-bit analog-to-digital converters delivering into the computer an image with 4096 distinct levels of gray.  Image enhancement software in the computer takes full advantage of that gray scale allowing or for an extraordinary range of adjustments to be made in brightness and contrast to optimize almost any captured image for medical diagnostic use.

One of the keys to the successful use of standard digital cameras in ADDIS System X-ray imaging was to get the camera itself out of the path of the X-rays so the camera doesn’t burn up. The solution is deliciously low tech – a mirror firmly mounted at a precise angle allows the camera to be offset and still optically capture the glow of the scintillator that is in the X-ray path.

These cameras weren’t intended for such a rigorous application but with some proprietary modification they have been made to work…

Digitally recorded x-rays are superior to those recorded with photographic film due to tile greater dynamic range offered by a digital recording system. Furthermore, computer image processing techniques provide a wealth of capabilities to study otherwise obscured details within the image.

A control computer converts the image into a PACS medical image file that can be viewed for clinical diagnosis, enhanced and electronically stored with patient demographic information in a picture archiving system.

The whole system works together as one functional unit. Today digital radiology serves as a central platform for image distribution.