Human anatomy: Leonardo Da Vinci was accused of heresy for examining it through dissection; we may not think much about it until sickness or injury strikes. But now, clinicians can see it in unprecedented detail without ever reaching for a scalpel.
An insatiable curiosity for what goes on inside of the human body has driven innovations in medicine and medical imaging for centuries.
These days, few look inside the human body with more skill and care than the radiologist. Though often overlooked, radiology is a cornerstone of modern medical care. This November 8, we will help put a spotlight on the International Day of Radiology (IDoR), acknowledging the importance of the radiologist in medicine today.
GE Healthcare’s #SeeInsideIt initiative is taking this idea one step further – as our offices in Brazil, China, Hungary, Japan, Korea and the United States will be using advanced imaging techniques to peer inside everyday objects-from cameras to cauliflowers to seahorses-to shed some light on the hidden world within. By seeing inside each object, anyone can #SeeInside to better understand the chemistry and physics of X-rays, CT and MR, gaining better knowledge of what goes in an imaging scan.
Science and medicine has taken us a long way from Da Vinci’s dissections to being able to map a person’s entire body today and instantly upload it to the cloud for examination. If you find the evolution of how we peer into the human body intriguing, you’ll want to read on.
Medical Imaging: from X-rays to magnets
In 1895, a German by the name of Wilhelm Röntgen accidentally discovered that X-ray waves could pass through flesh, but not through bone. X-rays work in much the same way that visible light rays do, but most importantly, with far more energy than visible light, they can pass through most objects.
When Röntgen asked his wife to place her hand between an X-ray source and a fluorescent screen, he saw that the screen became completely dark except for a white silhouette of all the bones in his wife’s hand. This is how the X-ray scan was born.
Several iterations of the X-ray machine have been developed and improved upon ever since, but the basic principles of rays, shadows and silhouettes remain fundamentally unchanged.
However, X-ray scans were limited by offering only a two-dimensional view of a person’s bones, and little more. Even with an X-ray machine, doctors still had to cut a patient open if they wanted to examine their organs, or objects that were obscured on scans by bones in front of them.
In 1972, the idea of X-ray imaging was taken to the next level in the form of Computed Tomography, otherwise known as CT or CAT scanning. The modern CT scanner looks like a donut on its side, with the patient lying horizontally in the middle. An X-ray beam moves around the patient, scanning from hundreds of different angles. The data from each scanning point is compiled to form a whole image of a transverse section, or slice, through the body. This idea of ‘slicing’ through a patient and seeing full organs, bones and blood vessels from any angle marked another revolution in imaging technology.
For all its benefits, the use of X-ray and CT is limited by the amount of radiation one can be exposed to. A series of experiments in 1977 involving giant magnets led to the next step in the evolution of medical imaging: the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner. Unlike X-ray and CT, MRI generates no radiation at all. To understand how it works, you will need a brief lesson on magnetism in the human body.
Every rotating body in the universe generates a magnetic field, from planets to generators down to every single subatomic proton in your body. If you put a person inside a powerful magnetic field generated by a giant, super-cooled, donut shaped coil, the tiny magnetic fields of each and every proton inside their body will line up. Then, by adding a radio frequency pulse, the proton can be knocked out of alignment. This releases energy that is picked up by another magnetic field and processed by a supercomputer into an image. Different pulses of different strengths and moving in different directions generate information that helps radiologists see images of the body from every conceivable angle.
CT and MRI imaging techniques have become so advanced, and produce images of such high definition, that they are now being used to identify the most minute faults in heavy metal machinery.
Starting November 6th, #SeeInsideIt will be showcasing scans of everyday objects revealing their under-the-surface intricate complexity. Make sure to check back with #SeeInsideIt on Twitter and Instagram to see things in a new light, where the ordinary will become extraordinary.