In a quarter of a second, this new CT scanner can take a perfect 3-D photo of your brain or heart. The underlying technology is nothing new, since CT scanners have been around for 40 years. But they’ve never been nearly this fast.
"It’s analogous to the shutter speed on a camera," says Scott Schubert, general manager of premium CT at GE Healthcare, whose Revolution CT is now pending approval from the FDA. "The faster the shutter speed on a camera, the more you’re able to freeze moving objects."
Current equipment is tricky to use—if the patient moves even the slightest amount, the pictures will be blurry and hard for a doctor to interpret. Staying still is especially challenging for kids, who often need to be sedated during a scan, or infants, who can’t be told to hold their breath. Even for adults who are otherwise motionless, the movement of a beating heart may be too fast for the scanner to photograph. GE's new scanner, however, works so quickly that a little movement doesn't matter. It covers a wider area, and the scanning device, which rotates around the patient, moves so fast that it can capture a heart in mid-beat.
The scanner can't capture the whole body at once, as has been reported elsewhere. ("No scanner can scan the whole body in a heartbeat," says Michael Tetuan, also of GE Healthcare. "Either the patient on the bed or the scanner itself would have to move extremely fast and you might need a seat belt.") But it can capture an entire organ in 3-D instantly.
Since the heart was especially hard to photograph in the past, the device could help with diagnosis of heart disease. "You can get a very clear picture of the heart, particularly the coronary arteries," Schubert says. It can also be used to improve everything else CT equipment is already good at, from diagnosing cancer to monitoring a course of treatment.
Like other X-rays, the scanner has the obvious advantage of giving a transparent view of a patient’s entire insides without the need for invasive surgery. Better images also translate into a better chance of early diagnoses, which could ultimately help save lives. They also help with another all-important issue in healthcare—cost. Fewer procedures mean insurance companies, and ultimately patients, have to shell out less for treatment over time.