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Imaging and medical beamline
Australian Synchrotron beamlines

Imaging and medical

The Imaging and Medical beamline (IMBL) is a flagship beamline of the Australian Synchrotron built with considerable support from the NHMRC. It is one of only a few of its type, and delivers the world’s widest synchrotron x-ray ‘beam’.

The Imaging and Medical beamline provides medical researchers with ‘x-ray vision’: dynamic 3D x-ray imaging at incredibly high resolution so as to reveal minute differences at the interface of air, tissues and bones: the starting point of many diseases. It can visualise blood vascularisation, air movement in the lung, and tissue and organ structure in far greater detail than that possible with MRI.

The beamline provides an exciting discovery space for accelerated research into treating tumours, chronic lung disease, haemorrhage and inflammation of the brain, bone growth and replacement, and various heart-related conditions.

A ground-breaking aspect of the IMBL, is the scientific team’s ongoing collaboration with a coalition of Australia’s leading medical researchers to develop future potential new radiotherapy methods, using the x-ray beam, that could destroy whole tumours with minimal disruption to the healthy tissue.

While medical studies are the primary focus of the IMBL, in refining and validating its various techniques for use on biological tissues, there have been many fascinating opportunities to apply this exciting ‘x-ray vision’ to studies of industrial and other materials. These include mineral studies such as the structure of coal to inform improved coal-seam gas recovery and sequestration; food technology investigations that are looking at Australian wheat’s baking performance, and even archaeology studies – such as being able to see through bedrock to a dinosaur skeleton, to determine the molecular structure of their last meal between their teeth.

Techniques available

Imaging and radio-biology techniques available on the IMBL

Features

  • Phase-contrast (propagation based) x-ray imaging, which allows much greater contrast from weakly absorbing materials such as soft tissue than is possible using conventional methods
  • Two and three-dimensional imaging at high resolution (10 μm voxels).
  • Lower tissue doses than conventional x-ray methods, making longitudinal studies (serial imaging) possible
  • Tuneable beam energy with bandwidth of < 10-3. Enables the imaging of specific elements with very high sensitivity, possibly down to micron scales
  • One of only three beamlines in the world designed for work with a wide range of clinical research subjects.

Applications

Synchrotron x-ray imaging techniques are particularly suited to the study of living processes, as well as in-situ materials processes, such as alloy solidification and precipitation phenomena. The techniques have numerous bio-medical, materials science and industrial applications. The capability for in-vivo imaging of small animals will enable longitudinal studies to be undertaken and may reduce the number of animals used for biomedical research purposes. The beam line will be used for research into the physics and biophysics of cancer therapy techniques, and may lead to commercially valuable advances in medical, industrial and biomedical imaging technologies.

Examples

  • Studies of lung and airway function and development are assisting the development of better asthma treatments and improved clinical practice options for neonatal care
  • Measurements of bone density and porosity, enhanced mammography techniques, and studies of nerve cell regrowth to assist the development of biopolymers to treat spinal injuries
  • The contrast mechanisms used to visualise soft tissues can also be used to study structures inside plants, and are of particular interest for investigating drought- and salt-tolerant plants to develop more efficient crops for Australian conditions
  • Materials science applications include the study of membranes for use in advanced fuel cells, investigation by micro-CT (computer tomography) of micro- and nano-structured devices for use in automotive applications, and examination of advanced materials during and after exposure to mechanical and environmental stresses
  • Geoscience applications include characterisation of CO2 sequestration performance and investigation by micro-CT of porosity in oil-bearing rocks and oil release rates from reservoirs
  • Radiotherapy applications include microbeam radiation therapies that deliver much higher radiation doses than conventional therapies but without adverse effects—and could revolutionise the treatment of some currently un-treatable cancers.

 

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