New X-Ray Technique Shows COVID-19 Lung in Unprecedented Detail

A recent article published in Nature Methods highlights how hierarchical phase-contrast tomography (HiP-CT), an x-ray phase propagation technique that uses spatial coherence to conduct three-dimensional scans of organs ex vivo, may offer clinicians greater insights into disease processes.

“It is not a clinical technique as such,” said Claire Walsh PhD, a biophysicist and senior research fellow at the Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging, University College London, London, United Kingdom, and one of the authors of the article. She stressed that HiP-CT is used ex vivo.

“This technology uses x-rays from a fourth-generation x-ray source, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility’s Extremely Brilliant Source. It is an incredibly bright x-ray source,” said Walsh in an interview with Medscape Medical News. She said synchrotron x-ray tomography provides a much enhanced view of the lungs of persons who had had COVID-19. “We are looking at a different property of the x-ray waves. We are looking at a phase shift. [HiP-CT] is much, much more sensitive to small changes in the tissue than x-ray or CT. Another massive advantage of HiP-CT is the resolution it offers. The resolution goes down to single cells inside an intact human organ,” she said.

The resolution permits researchers to view blood vessels 5 μm in diameter in an intact lung. In comparison, clinical CT images show blood vessels of around 1 mm in diameter — 200 times larger.

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