Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Helping Hand

Dual-energy radiography can better distinguish bone and soft tissue to reveal minor fractures more clearly than standard X-rays

29 September 2020

Helping Hand

A burst of X-rays fired at a cadaver’s hand – passing through the skin at 186,000 miles per second, invisible to the eye but casting a black and grey pattern around white bones dense enough to absorb the radiation. Standard X-ray radiography scans, usually known as 'X-rays' (like the one of the left here) are commonplace in hospitals, where they’re used to spot broken bones. Yet minor fractures are sometimes missed, especially when surrounding soft tissue is dense enough to appear similarly coloured to bone. While this hand has no bone breaks, it’s helping to test a different technique – photon-counting dual-energy radiography – where an algorithm helps to distinguish bone (middle left) from surrounding tissue (middle right), presenting a more complete, overlaid picture (right). Radiologists found this more informative than X-rays alone, potentially helping to spot subtle bone injuries that, left untreated, may otherwise lead to conditions like arthritis.

Written by John Ankers

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