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 Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the television show Star Trek. Since 1966 the many movies and television series have been giving us a glimpse into the future, whether it’s a cellphone-like communicator, computer tablet, or transparent aluminum.

But since we’re in the medical imaging field, there’s no doubt that we would like a tricorder invented more than any other object in the Star Trek universe, because it would completely revolutionize medicine. The medical version of this fictional device can tell you just about anything you need to know about the body, including the diseases it has or the parasites within. In the most recent movie, tricorders can even look inside the body much like an MRI scan or x-ray. Perhaps the most amazing aspect is that tricorders are all handheld, something that we certainly won’t be seeing anytime soon (though ultrasound scanner are getting amazingly small).

As we think about the future of diagnostic imaging, we can always hope that medical diagnoses will eventually be made with a device the size of a small tissue box. But there will be many advances in medical imaging before we get to anything like a tricorder. Let’s take a look.

Computer Medical Imaging “Reading”

Here’s the aspect of medical imaging that’s right around the corner. For over a hundred years the reading of diagnostic images have been interpreted by doctors. Most of the time this hasn’t been a problem, but there was always room for error.

Computer programs are being written that allow computers to interpret medical images. Amazingly, the more images they process, the better they get at finding abnormalities in the body. They’ll be able to pinpoint problems that humans might miss so that another scan (or a different scanning method entirely) can be performed in a more precise spot. The most advanced, still in its testing phases, also take medical and family history into account so that it can look for problems in specific areas.

Don’t worry, the computer won’t be making the final decisions, and scans will still be looked at by radiologists or other medical imaging experts, including your doctor. But the more information that is brought together means more accurate reading.

Radiation Dose Reduction

When you learn about the originals of x-ray technology at the end of the 19th century, it’s pretty scary. There would be a radiation source behind the patient, and the doctor would stand in front of the patient with a fluorescing screen in order to look inside their bodies. In the days before they knew about the dangers of ionizing radiation, it wasn’t good for the patient. But it was much worse for the doctor, because he would be getting huge doses, patient after patient and day after day.

As technology has progressed, the amount of x-rays needed to perform tasks has dropped exponentially. The last big revolution in x-ray imaging was the invention of digital x-rays to replace traditional film x-rays. As digital sensors become more sensitive, less and less x-ray ionization will be needed in order to see inside the body, eventually reaching the point where it’s so negligible that there will be no risks whatsoever.

Those are just two of the many advances we’ll see in medical imaging in the coming years, but there are many more in the near and far future. Stop back next month to find out more.