Advanced 3D imaging for deadly lung disease

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Southampton researchers have used a new 3D x-ray imaging technique for the first time to better understand idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), an incurable lung disease affecting 5,000 more people each year.

A team from the NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit (BRU) have used powerful scanning equipment at Southampton’s µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography, originally designed for analysing engineering parts such as jet turbine blades, to create 3D images of diseased lung.

The study, published in JCI Insight, is the first time this technique has been used to analyse IPF lung samples in three dimensions, providing new insights into how such scarring lung diseases develop, and has the potential to transform how the disease is diagnosed.

Scarred lungs

Each year over 5,000 new cases of IPF are diagnosed in the UK, with a life expectancy of only three to five years. The condition causes inflammation and scarring of the lungs, which makes it increasingly difficult to breathe.

The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, used the technique micro CT to scan inside lung biopsy samples from IPF patients, and also involved researchers at the Royal Brompton Hospital, National Jewish Health in Colorado, and University College Dublin.

New insights

Micro CT rotates 360 degrees whilst taking thousands of 2D images, which are then used to build detailed 3D images. When applied to IPF lung tissue, this enables the researchers to get a whole new perspective on how the disease develops.

It was previously thought that the disease progressed as a ‘wave’, but the team discovered that it spreads out from multiple individual sites of scarring.

They are now studying how this technique can help doctors improve the way we diagnose such diseases more accurately, to ensure every patient will receive the correct treatment.

Posted on Friday 22 April 2016