Thales is investigating the medical potential of consumer electronic technology through a number of partnerships, continuing a tradition of leading-edge work in medical imaging that dates back to the 1950s. And when it comes to making radiology better, Thales is just as likely to look for inspiration in a tablet as printed electronics.
“We are inspired by the display industry, which is transforming digital signals into an image in the best possible way in terms of resolution,” says Vincent Marfaing, director of radiology at Thales. “But we are actually doing the reverse: we’re transforming an X-ray beam into visible light, then transforming the projected image into an electronic signal.”
Doing so quickly and efficiently represents game-changing potential for those in the profession. For example, imagine a doctor or an X-ray technician being able to view a digital preview of an important medical image in real-time while standing at a patient’s bed.
Thales’ Artpix Mobile EZ2GO (“easy to go”) – an 11-inch tablet that functions as a portable digital radiography imaging sub-system – makes this possible for the first time, storing up to 50 high quality X-rays at a time. Compared to analog solutions, the system reduces radiation per shot by as much as 40 to 50 per cent to produce equivalent image quality for the radiologist. Feedback from users reveals that this one device could win back as many as 300 extra hours of potential work time for that specialist, as it saves so much time trekking back and forth in the hospital.
“We’re also seeing real potential in special image-processing software that can take a two-dimensional image and effectively generate a 3D version,” Marfaing adds. Imagine a surgeon considering a very delicate heart procedure: they need a 3D view of what’s really going on. Typically, this has been done by taking a number of radiological images – a process that involves multiple exposures to X-rays. Thales has discovered a way to build an equivalent 3D reconstruction, minimising the number of shots, based on a detailed algorithmic approach.
“We could be offering images equivalent to a CAT scan at a fraction of the dosage that would take otherwise,” he states.
Marfaing is also enthusiastic about the work being done in organic and printed electronics – technology that could produce light, robust (if not unbreakable) flat-panel detectors for the healthcare sector.
“You want a handheld X-ray detector to be as portable as possible,” says Marfaing. “You don’t want it to break when dropped or knocked into other hospital equipment. The point of possible failure here is the plate glass technology inside the detector, which is rigid.”
One workaround would be to make that rigid surface flexible: “We are investigating the use of flexible foil substrate with organic printed electronics to replace traditional electronics on glass,” Marfaing explains. “This would allow us to create a device that is much lighter than the norm, making it far more transportable, and it would also be effectively unbreakable.”