Initial medical diagnoses are done based on physical examination by a health care professional. However, as the technology of optics, computing, and biology continues to advance, engineers have essentially developed “enhanced eyes” for health care professionals to see beyond the limits of our natural vision to diagnose patients. For example, with the advent of ultrasound, doctors are able to see into a pregnant mother’s womb to monitor the health of a developing baby.
New imaging techniques and machines are combining existing modalities. This improves diagnoses and combines the strengths of each imaging modality. For example, cancer diagnosis can now be achieved by scanning a patient with a dual PET/CT machine (Fig. 1). In this method, imaging specialists combine the strength of CT scans, which shows high resolution of organ location and tissue distribution, and PET scans, which determines molecular/cellular activity by introducing a radioactive molecule into the body.
These technologies have also increased our understanding of diseases and are used frequently in research to develop new theories for disease mechanisms. Nevertheless, because of the amount of technology and engineering that has gone into developing these machines, they are still very costly both to patients and researchers.
About the author: John Hickey is a second year Biomedical Engineering PhD candidate in the Jon Schneck lab researching the use of different biomaterials for immunotherapies and microfluidics in identifying rare immune cells.
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