Work underway to improve PET

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Physicists and radiologists are working together to apply high-energy physics technology to medical imaging techniques. The University of Chicago announced that its Cancer Research Center has teamed up with scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory to develop new electronics for identifying subatomic particles in high-energy accelerators that may also enable radiologists to detect cancer at an earlier, more curable stage.

Time-of-flight positron emission tomography (PET) is one way to more precisely measure the velocity and location of subatomic particles. Scientists at the two facilities, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, are seeking to better understand the identity of subatomic particles produced in collider experiments. Currently, physicists can measure particle velocities to within an accuracy of 100 picosends (one trillionth of a second). Reducing that rate would help radiologists, via PET, detect smaller tumors. The ability to detect a tumor measuring a quarter of an inch in diameter rather than one half of an inch means doctors can initiate treatment when the disease mass is eight times smaller by volume.

Time-of-flight PET scanners first became commercially available last December but there is room for improvement. An accuracy of less than 30 picoseconds would provide better resolution and eliminate the need for complex, costly image reconstruction.