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First human scanned with revolutionary 3D colour scanner using CERN technology

University of Otago

The first human has been scanned with a revolutionary new 3D colour medical scanner invented by New Zealand scientists and employing technology developed at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

The MARS spectral x-ray scanner will revolutionise medical imaging globally - and as a result the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer and heart disease - because it provides far greater detail of the body's chemical components.

Father and son scientists Professors Phil and Anthony Butler invented the MARS spectral x-ray scanner. Professor Phil Butler is a physicist working at New Zealand's University of Canterbury. His son Anthony is a radiologist and Professor at both the Universities of Otago and Canterbury in New Zealand.

In the next few months, New Zealand orthopaedic and rheumatology patients will be scanned by the machine in a world-first clinical trial.

The Professors Butler integrated CERN's Medipix3 detector technology into their medical scanner. Medipix3 uses the same CERN particle detector technology used in the search for Higgs Boson particle - a project that won lead scientists François Englert and Peter W. Higgs the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013.

Professor Anthony Butler says "X-ray spectral information allows health professionals to measure the different components of body parts such as fat, water, calcium, and disease markers. Traditional black-and-white x-rays only allow measurement of the density and shape of an object."

"So far researchers have been using a small version of the MARS scanner to study cancer, bone and joint health, and vascular diseases that cause heart attacks and strokes. In all of these studies, promising early results suggest that when spectral imaging is routinely used in clinics it will enable more accurate diagnosis and personalisation of treatment."

The MARS spectral x-ray scanner produces images with significantly improved diagnostic information. The Medipix3 technology measures the energy of each x-ray photon as it is detected. This spectral information is used to produce 3D images of the constituents of the subject, instead of the black and white density of conventional CT. The immediate market for the scanner is research institutions for clinical trials. Ultimately, it promises to become a standard imaging tool for health facilities such as hospitals.

Professor Phil Butler says CERN's Medipix3 technology sets the machine apart diagnostically because its small pixels and accurate energy resolution mean it can get images no other imaging tool can. "As a new imaging device, a new microscope if you like, biomedical researchers can non-invasively see different kinds of detail inside patients."

Small versions of the scanner that can house tissue samples are already in use in research institutions around the world. The first human has been scanned through a larger form of the scanner. Professor Phil Butler was the first person to be scanned. His ankle and wrist were imaged.

The next step in development is an imminent clinical trial where orthopaedic and rheumatology patients from Christchurch will be scanned. This 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 says after a decade in development it is really exciting to have reached a point where it's clear the technology could be used for routine patient care.

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The Butlers and their growing team of scientists have been supported over the past decade of developing the machine by the Universities of Otago and Canterbury, New Zealand Government's Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and GE Healthcare. MARS Bioimaging Ltd (MBI) is a company set up by the Professors Butler to commercialise the product.

Get more technical and clinical information about the MARS scanner.

To interview Professor Anthony Butler call him on +64 21 027 20806 or email anthony.butler@marsbioimaging.com.

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