Medicine photo
organs glow white against orange bones and red tissue in this full-body rendering
The thigh bone really is connected to the hip bone. Courtesy of Simon Cherry

This image is not a photograph, at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s more like a collection of the shadows cast by all the organs and bones in this person’s body. And if UC Davis biomedical engineers Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi have their way, it could represent the future of radiology.

“While I had imagined what the images would look like for years,” said Cherry in a press release on November 19, “nothing prepared me for the incredible detail we could see on that first scan.”

A mashup between traditional positron emission tomography (PET) and x-ray computed tomography (CT), the EXPLORER images the whole volume of the body simultaneously, building up a detailed three-dimensional model in less than a minute. Your doctor can then look at cross sections of just your knee or heart, for example, or has the option of zooming out to see all your organs squashed into one image—the “maximum intensity projection”.

The device represents the world’s first full-body 3D scanner, according to its creators, and can generate movies as well as static models. What’s more, an EXPLORER scan exposes the patient to a fortieth the radiation of a traditional PET scan, and although that figure will vary depending on the settings, less radiation is always a good thing. “The tradeoff between image quality, acquisition time and injected radiation dose will vary for different applications,” Cherry said, “but in all cases, we can scan better, faster or with less radiation dose, or some combination of these.”

The creators expect their invention to aid in diagnosis as well as research, and hope to have the system up and running public scans by June 2019. They showcased early images at this year’s Radiological Society of North America meeting, which started November 24 in Chicago.