Camera Promises Clearer Picture of Diseases
Prototype May Sharpen Images of Organs and Accelerate the Diagnosis of Heart Ailments, Cancer and Dementia

A UT Dallas researcher has received $50,000 to create a prototype gamma camera that could eradicate much of the “noise,” or grainy artifacts from images that doctors use to diagnose disease. 

Dr. Roy Chaney, a professor of physics in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, was awarded the funding from the UT System’s Texas Ignition Fund (TIF).

Chaney’s research tackles one of the limitations of Single Photon Emission Tomography, or SPECT imaging, a technique that relies on injecting small amounts of radioactive materials into patients and using a specialized camera to create pictures from gamma rays emitted from the body.  Developed in the 1950s, the technique is cost-effective and crucial for diagnosing many types of cancer, heart disease and dementia, but it’s not flawless.

According to Chaney, the current limitations of SPECT imaging could lead to misdiagnoses because the image produced is not quite sharp enough.  Chaney’s prototype could  deliver clearer images for accurate diagnoses.

“Gamma-ray images of organs and other tissues are tough to capture because of the nature of the rays,” Chaney said.  “Gamma rays come from all directions, but taking a proper image of how an organ functions relies on knowing the direction the rays are coming from.  The method in use today uses a pinhole device to remove all the gamma rays except those from the required direction.  Doing so seriously reduces the number of gamma rays which participate in generating the image.”

Chaney said the current technique requires patients to be injected with larger doses of radioactive material than the method he is exploring.

Chaney’s initial work paired him with then physics PhD student Olga Vassilieva, who graduated in 1999, to create and mathematically simulate a new SPECT imaging device that relies on specialized apertures to gather gamma rays from all directions. The results should be sharper images.

The team’s initial work resulted in a patent, but Chaney hadn’t been able to produce a prototype until he received the TIF funding, which is designed to advance technologies with significant potential for commercialization and licensing.

SPECT imaging is widely used and particularly well-suited to cardiology.  About half of all images taken of the heart are captured by SPECT cameras.   Diagnosing and evaluating cancer makes up the second-largest use for SPECT imaging, and it is growing in importance in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.

“Like many advancements in science, Dr. Chaney’s patented technology holds potential benefits that can be uncovered by developing a prototype,” said Dr. Robert Glosser, department head of physics.  “I join his other colleagues in physics in offering congratulations for winning an award that advances his research into a prototype.”

Chaney hopes the TIF funding will carry his research from a promising theoretical possibility to a working prototype within one year.  He plans to purchase some parts for the new gamma ray camera from commercial laboratory sites, but other key components will need to be carefully machined according to his patented design.

“Funding like this is really exciting,” Chaney said.  “It helps one to see that something important can become something possible.  It’s nice to be able to take what was once an idea and make it reality.”

“Funding like this is really exciting. It helps one to see that something important can become something possible,” said Dr. Roy Chaney.   

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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