R E S E A RC H
By Charles Nevsimal
SHARPER IMAGING, SAFER PATIENTS
Say what you will about the controversial TSA pat-downs travelers endure on their way through airport security. The one thing you can’t say is, “These pat-downs contribute to cancer.” The jury is still out, however, when it comes to Backscatter Scanners, the so-called “naked” scanners whose ubiquity in airports is growing exponentially. But if Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Dr. Taly Gilat-Schmidt has anything to say about it, that jury might not be out for long. Her research in Backscatter Scanner radiation is about to culminate in a paper that will reveal results. Security scanners aren’t her main focus, however. “Most of my research is in the area of medical imaging systems,” says Gilat-Schmidt, “a field whose many benefits are countered by certain design tradeoffs. For instance, in medical imaging, rendering a crisper, cleaner image usually means more radiation and a potentially longer scan time.”
Photos by Ben Smidt
Much of Gilat-Schmidt’s research involves developing novel methods to “break” or improve these tradeoffs, such as new X-ray detector technology, innovative reconstruction algorithms (the math that morphs data acquired by scans into images) and improvements to the way imaging systems acquire data.
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“I’m interested in how images are formed and how to design better systems,” says Gilat-Schmidt, whose fascination with imaging took flight when, as an undergrad, a professor shuttled a small group of students to a radiology conference held annually in Chicago. With two football field-sized exhibition floors of medical imaging equipment, she was hooked.
Today, Gilat-Schmidt leads her own students to that very conference every year while leading them in the lab on a daily basis. One study she and her team are working on attempts to quantify the feasibility and potential radiation dose reduction of tilting the CT gantry during cardiac CT scans to reduce irradiation of the breast. Its tissue is highly radiosensitive because of its frontal location on the body and because it is unshielded by other organs.
I’m interested in how images are formed and how to design better systems. The study is in the preliminary feasibility phase, so Gilat-Schmidt’s team is using computer software to simulate CT scans and track the transport of X-ray photons through patient models derived from actual CT scans.
“While waiting for Institutional Review Board approval, we decided to use the same simulations to quantify the radiation dose of Backscatter Scanners,” she says.
Which lands us squarely back at the airport and that forked path that leads to the “naked” scanner or its alternative: the friendly TSA worker wearing light blue surgical gloves. The tradeoff? A possible dose of radiation or a too-close-forcomfort experience. Your choice might be a little easier — and safer, too — once Gilat-Schmidt publishes that paper disclosing her results.