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Medical, high-energy physicists collaborate to improve PET scans

Physicists are developing new electronics for identifying subatomic particles in high-energy accelerators that may also enable radiologists to detect cancer at an earlier, more curable stage.

"The electronics needs in medical imaging look very closely related to the needs we have in high-energy physics," said Henry Frisch, Professor in Physics at the University of Chicago. "Physics tends to advance by new capabilities in measurement, the same in radiology."

Radiologists, medical physicists and high-energy physicists share a desire to more precisely measure the velocity and location of subatomic particles, Frisch explained. A significant improvement in Positron Emission Tomography technology could mean the difference between life and death for some patients, said Chin-Tu Chen, Associate Professor in Radiology at the University of Chicago. Being able to detect a tumor measuring a quarter of an inch in diameter rather than half an inch would mean initiating treatment when the disease mass is eight times smaller by volume.

Frisch, Chen and physicist Karen Byrum of Argonne National Laboratory are pursuing the joint effort with initial funding provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Argonne and the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center. Their work is part of an international scientific trend to apply high-energy physics technology to biomedical imaging techniques.

While medical physicists look for disease, high-energy physicists seek to identify what types of subatomic particles they produce in collider experiments. The identity of many such particles remains a mystery, and thus a barrier to some potentially dramatic new insights into the operation of the universe at the smallest of scales.

Today's high-energy physics experiments typically measure particle velocities to within an accuracy of 100 picoseconds (a trillionth of a second). A photon of light can travel approximately one inch in 100 picosecon
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Contact: Steve Koppes
skoppes@uchicago.edu
773-702-8366
University of Chicago
22-May-2007


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