NIH uses photon-counting CT scanner in patients for the first time

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For Immediate Release
February 24, 2016

Molly Freimuth

NIH uses photon-counting CT scanner in patients for the first time

The Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health is investigating the potential use of a new generation of a computerized tomography (CT) scanner, called a photon-counting detector CT scanner, in a clinical setting. The prototype technology is expected to replicate the image quality of conventional CT scanning, but may also provide health care specialists with an enhanced look inside the body through multi-energy imaging. Patients could receive a minimum amount of radiation, while the maximal amount of information needed would be delivered to health care providers.

Over the next five years, David Bluemke, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences, and his team will continue to develop scan protocols and image processing algorithms, which could improve screening, imaging, and treatment planning for health conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“The NIH Clinical Center has helped shape and share research advances and health care for decades. Now is an exciting time for us and for our study participants here in the Clinical Center as we help test and develop this CT technology so that it may one day help patients around the world and impact the health care they receive,” said Dr. Bluemke.

As the world's largest hospital solely dedicated to research, the NIH Clinical Center sees thousands of patients every year, many of whom have rare and complicated illnesses. In the treatment and study of disease, surgery is often viewed as the last option. CT scanning is one way that doctors can examine the body’s internal features in a non-surgical way. In collaboration and through a partnership known as a cooperative research and development agreement with the manufacturer, Siemens Healthcare, and researchers in the CT technology field, the Clinical Center is testing this technology to help the health care field optimize the scanner for clinical use across the U.S. and around the globe.

The Clinical Center is one of three sites in the world to use this technology and is the first hospital-based research setting of the device. More than 45 volunteers enrolled in a research protocol have benefited from this cutting edge equipment. Initial findings have been reported in Radiology.

By advancing this technology, researchers aim to improve the diagnosis that doctors can offer by increasing the resolution and contrasts available for analysis. Areas of research investigation with the new technology include:

  • Doctors can identify materials in the body with anatomic precision. A dye, or contrast, is often given to a patient so that researchers can see a selected area in more detail. Different materials in the body can be displayed in different colors for faster diagnosis and precision.
  • The new technology may be used to help identify and characterize tumors, plaques or vessels that are smaller than half a millimeter. For many patients, finding a tumor that size may make a difference in identifying if it is benign or could be cancerous.
  • The technology may help to more accurately identify soft tissues such as proteins, tendons or collagen which are hard to differentiate with current equipment.



About the NIH Clinical Center: The NIH Clinical Center is the clinical research hospital for the National Institutes of Health. Through clinical research, clinician-investigators translate laboratory discoveries into better treatments, therapies and interventions to improve the nation's health. More information:

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit