A startup company is developing a flat-panel source of x-rays that could help make the imaging technique portable. The company’s panels are made using techniques commonplace in the semiconductor industry and would be combined with flat-panel image sensors to make a briefcase-sized x-ray machine powered by a laptop battery. Such a system might be used in the field by the military or instead of bulky bedside systems used in hospital intensive-care units. Early research also suggests it might expose patients to less radiation.
The company behind the x-ray source, Radius Health, was spun out of the University of California, Los Angeles last year. It is developing a commercial version of a flat-panel x-ray source developed by physicists at the university. The company will make its first complete x-ray imager in three to four months and says it will have a full-scale prototype in a year.
The x-ray machines used in hospitals today employ a high-energy source of the radiation. A tungsten filament at one end of a long vacuum tube emits electrons when heated and those accelerate down the tube until they hit a metal electrode, causing it to produce x-rays.
Many groups are working to develop more compact and robust x-ray sources, says Dieter Enzmann, chair of radiological sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles Health System. Enzmann was not involved with the development of the new x-ray source but serves on Radius Health’s advisory board.
A key advantage of Radius Health’s system is that it uses an array of emitters, rather than a single source. “There is some potential to reduce the x-ray dose if you can control hundreds or thousands of x-ray sources independently,” says Enzmann. This lower dose would be especially attractive for pediatric imaging, Enzmann says, adding “if you have a portable, thin design that generates good images, it could be used both in the field and within the hospital.”