I recently had a chance to attend the 2013 Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting, held in Chicago. I was there to present my own research as well as learn a thing or two about the radiological sciences. After watching a number of research presentations and looking at [too many] scientific posters, I stumbled into “Hall A” – the technology exhibits. I was inspired by the overwhelming amount of new technology being introduced and even more inspired by what capabilities they afforded.
Let me give a bit of context. With over 60,000 attendees (yes, sixty-thousand), RSNA has become one of the most prominent medical conferences in the world. A major hallmark of the RSNA conference is participation by the tech-industry. The medical specialty of diagnostic radiology and the tech-industry have a harmonious relationship that RSNA helps catalyze. This year, over 700 tech exhibitors were present at RSNA, occupying 500,000 square feet (that’s about 9 football fields!) to show off their latest and greatest developments.
As a medical student and tech-innovator, I wanted to explore the cutting-edge and gain some insight into the innovation process of these groups, so I met with some of the major imaging companies along with emerging start-ups. Two tech advances in particular caught my attention due to their potential impact.
The Tech: Computed Tomography (CT) is a well-established clinical imaging modality where 3D images of the body are reconstructed from X-ray attenuation data. The “IQon Spectral CT” system (Philips Healthcare) was presented at RSNA as the world’s first spectral-detector CT system. The new spectral-detector is capable of discriminating between X-ray photons of varying levels of energy.
The Outcome: With this detector, a new dimension has been added to CT imaging: clinicians may now view conventional grey-scale images but also characterize structures based on their material makeup in a single scan.
Digital Photon Counting PET
The Tech: Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans are 3D images that allow clinicians to understand what’s happening inside the body at the cellular and molecular scale. Current PET systems utilize analog detectors for their operation. The “Vereos PET / CT” system (Philips Healthcare), introduced at RSNA 2013, exploits proprietary “digital photon counting” technology to implement a digital silicon photomultiplier.
The Outcome: The digital system increases sensitivity gain, improves volumetric resolution, and improves quantitative accuracy as compared to analog systems. Clinically, that means improved image quality and diagnostic confidence.
Both of these technologies are exciting developments for the field of diagnostic radiology. Adoption of new technology is typically a slow process, so it may take some time before we see such modalities in the clinic. Regardless, they represent excellent progress in diagnostic capability and patient care.
The takeaway from my experience at RSNA 2013 is that technology as a whole is an incredibly fruitful route to improving medical, scientific, and research capability. It’s easy to develop technology for the sake of production, but production doesn’t always equate to positive progress.
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Contributed by Nabeel U. Ali
Nabeel Ali is a Medical Student and Engineer focused on improving healthcare through disruptive research, technology and venture. He is an award-winning and published researcher, and has received national attention for his medical technology innovations. Outside of medical school, Nabeel serves as a Research Fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital / Harvard Medical School, Reviewer for the Journal of Digital Imaging, Contributing Writer for in-Training Magazine, and advises a number of technology start-ups.