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Medical imaging with light, sound and sugar (!) at the Royal Summer Science Exhibition

By Thomas A Roberts, on 9 July 2014

Have you ever broken a bone and been for an MRI scan? Perhaps your dentist has interrogated your fillings with an14520757366_9435d47805 x-ray of your jaw. Or maybe you’ve seen a baby curled in its mother’s womb on an ultrasound machine. Medical imaging has revolutionised our lives to the point where we can see inside our bodies with incredible clarity. But now a new wave of imaging techniques is coming.

Now, we can use light to illuminate deep inside our bodies to see individual, microscopic cells dividing. We can use sound to generate exquisitely detailed images of blood vessels. And, we can even use sugar to make tumours within our bodies glow.

At this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, held last week, my colleagues and I from the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging (CABI) exhibited the next generation of techniques that we are developing in our lab which push the boundaries of what we can see inside the human body. Having conquered the Cheltenham Science Festival, the CABI team showcased  a completely new exhibition.

The stand, called ‘Limits of Perception’, was separated into three distinct themes. In the Light section, we had tanks filled with jellyfish and marine creatures (!) to demonstrate how copying ideas from nature such as the transparency and florescence of these animals can be used to image complex biological processes on a cellular scale.

The Sound section was home to a clinical ultrasound scanner, giving members of the public a rare opportunity to go hands-on with state-of-the-art medical imaging equipment, plus there was also a demonstration of ultrasound’s big brother: photoacoustic imaging.

There was also something sweet in store for visitors on the Sugar display, which will focused on glucoCEST: a cutting-edge MRI technique for looking at cancer in the body using nothing but sugar (yes, really) to make the tumours visible.

The team geared up for the  Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition for six months and were so excited  to show visitors all of the above and much more (…including bats and sugarcane). Thanks to everyone who joined us to explore the limits of perception and to find out what your doctor might be imaging you with in the future.

Watch a video about the CABI exhibit:

View images from the exhibition (Credit: Tom Roberts):

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