After 13 years in development, the world’s first medical imaging scanner that can capture a 3D picture of the whole human body at once, has produced its first scans.
Named Explorer, this combined positron emission tomography (PET) and x-ray computed tomography (CT) scanner can image the entire body at the same time as it captures radiation far more efficiently than other scanners.
The brainchild of University of California Davis scientists Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi, the scanner produces an image in as little as a second and, over time, produces movies that can track specially tagged drugs as they move around the body.
Explorer also scans up to 40 times faster than current PET scans, produces a diagnostic scan of the whole body in as little as 20 to 30 seconds, and scans with a radiation dose up to 40 times less than a current PET scan.
The idea was kick-started in 2011 with a $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, allowing its founders to establish a wide-ranging consortium of researchers and other collaborators. The solution then got a boost in 2015, with a $15.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The second round of funding allowed the founders to team up with a commercial partner and get the first scanner built.
The scanner has also been developed in partnership with Shanghai-based United Imaging Healthcare (UIH), which built the system on its latest technology platform and will eventually manufacture the devices for the broader healthcare market.
[Read more: Australian made 3D-printed ribcage implanted into patient in the US | Major investment in new radiotherapy tech to harness data for better treatments]
Cherry said the technology will have countless of applications, from improving diagnostics to tracking disease progression and researching new drug therapies, because it produces higher-quality diagnostic PET scans than have ever been possible.
“The tradeoff between image quality, acquisition time and injected radiation dose will vary for different applications, but in all cases, we can scan better, faster or with less radiation dose, or some combination of these,” Cherry said.
The first images from scans of humans using the new device will be shown at the upcoming Radiological Society of North America meeting, which starts on November 24 in Chicago.
UC Davis is also working closely with UIH to get the first system delivered and installed at the Explorer Imaging Center in Sacramento for researchers to begin research projects and imaging patients using the solution by June 2019.
Badawi said the level of detail on the first images was astonishing, especially once the reconstruction method became optimised.
“We could see features that you just don’t see on regular PET scans. And the dynamic sequence showing the radiotracer moving around the body in three dimensions over time was, frankly, mind-blowing. There is no other device that can obtain data like this in humans, so this is truly novel,” Badawi said.
[Read more: TGA to reform regulation for 'software as medical devices', as apps, AI and 3D printing in healthcare boom | Australian Government grants to fund pioneers in 3D printing and precision medicine]
In addition, the UC Davis team is working with Hongcheng Shi, director of Nuclear Medicine at Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai to expand the scope of early human studies on the scanner.
“I don’t think it will be long before we see at a number of Explorer systems around the world,” Cherry said.
“But that depends on demonstrating the benefits of the system, both clinically and for research. Now, our focus turns to planning the studies that will demonstrate how Explorer will benefit our patients and contribute to our knowledge of the whole human body in health and disease.”