Setting the Pace of Medical Imaging Innovation

Discovery of X-rays

One evening in 1895, Professor Roentgen was working in his lab performing experiments with fluorescent glowing cathode tubes. He noticed that despite covering the cathode ray tube with thick black paper, he could observe a fluorescent light on a screen one metre away. He had discovered an ‘invisible light’ that was able to pass through the thick paper.
Roentgen continued his studies into these rays, and discovered that they could penetrate through human tissues and reveal the bones within. One of his early experiments was a 15 minute exposure of his wife’s hand which generated a clear image of her bones and her ring. He had discovered X-rays and this early photograph showed the world how humans can make use of these mysterious rays for medical healthcare.
Thales Group - Roentgen

Thales Group - Radio-opacity

How X -ray imaging works?

The make-up of each human body part is different… human tissue structure can be divided into different categories, for example, calcific tissue such as bone, soft tissues such as heart and muscle and low density fat tissue. These different tissues differ in terms of X-ray absorption (radio-opacity) and thus generate a different image on the X-ray screen. When the density of the tissue is too close to that of adjacent structures, it is possible to introduce a contrast media such as barium to enhance its outline.

The evolution of X-ray imaging

Thales Group - DR Thales vs CR
X-ray imaging has transformed from the original analogue radiology to the cutting-edge digital radiography that we know today. Thanks to this evolution, x-ray imaging offers higher image quality and easier image storage, transfer and management, thereby improving the efficiency of health care.

Furthermore, in recent years digital imaging has seen an important transition from Computed Radiography (CR) to Direct Radiography (DR). CR uses cassettes that house phosphor imaging plates (IP), this system is similar to traditional film-screen technology. DR typically captures the image directly onto a Flat Panel Detector (FDP) without the use of a cassette which saves the patient waiting time. DR generates higher image resolution at lower cost and it is widely considered to be the future of digital imaging.
Thales Group - Pixium Surgical Imaging Suite

What do these trends mean?

For doctors, it means that they see a more complete view of the patient's body condition. With clearer and faster imaging, the patients receive an accurate and timely diagnostic and can access more effective treatment.
With old X-ray imaging technology there was much lower image quality. The main reason for this situation is the amount of radiation (the dose). Excessive exposure to X-rays is a significant health threat, so the use of X-ray imaging always requires the minimum dose, especially for those the most sensitive such as children and for sensitive areas including the lungs and breasts. Furthermore, many appliances using X-ray technology were large and cumbersome, inflexible, and inconvenient to use, which would affect the imaging efficiency.

Thus, ultra-sensitive, low dose and high resolution technology has become the direction of development of medical imaging technology.

Thales gives the radiologists an image in their hands

Thales Group - ArtPix Mobile EZ2GO
In terms of flat-panel technology, Thales has gone one step further by developing post-processing software installed on a lightweight tablet which is paired with an FPD to create a totally mobile imaging subsystem, ArtPix Mobile EZ2GO. This has greatly increased work flexibility and autonomy, not to mention time saved from fewer commutes.

Although the size has been reduced from large machines to compact systems, the amount of storage has greatly improved, for example, one flat panel imaging system can store several thousands of images compared to the traditional one-shot X–ray technology. Furthermore, due to the sensitivity of the detectors, this higher quality image is generated using 40 to 50% less radiation dose.

Imagine a doctor standing at the patient’s bed, holding a tablet, seeing inside the patient’s body, displayed clearly and in real time. Thales’s technologies give doctors "x-ray eyes", pretty cool right?

Setting the pace of innovation

After decades of technologic advancement, the x-ray equipment market is currently worth $7 billion and is growing at a pace of 1.5% a year. As always, Thales’s innovative technology is in the spot light with one in every two x-ray examinations worldwide being performed with our detectors.

Thales’s pioneering innovation in medical imaging dates back to the 1950s. Thales has constantly played the role of the first mover, pushing the existing technological boundaries, for example Thales was the first actor in the world to develop DR imaging in the 80s with the first clinical tests taking place in a cardiology ward in 1993. Thales successfully incorporated concepts from Image Intensifier technology and defence systems’ solid state imaging technology to establish ground-breaking medical imaging innovations.

Today, our inspiration is the consumer display industry, which is based on transforming digital signals into an image to generate the highest possible resolution. We are actually doing the reverse process, turning an x-ray beam into visible light and then transforming this light into an electronic signal.