SOUTHAMPTON, England, April 21 (UPI) -- An advanced 3D-imaging system used to scan the insides of jet engines has allowed researchers to get a better understanding of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a rare lung disease, researchers in England report in a recent study.
Researchers at the University of Southampton's µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography used the Microfocus CT scanner to examine lung samples of IPF patients with far greater detail and understanding than standard methods of imaging, according to the study, published in the journal JCI Insight.
IPF is a thickening of lung tissue over time, with the resulting fibrosis, or scar tissue, making it increasingly difficult for the lungs to move oxygen into the bloodstream, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The disease has no cure and most people live between three and five years after a diagnosis.
"Our center examines a wide variety of objects from the layup of individual carbon fibers in aircraft wing components, to the delicate roots of growing plants, and now parts of the body," Ian Sinclair, director of the µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography, said in a press release. "By being a multidisciplinary center we have a wealth of expertise that have allowed us to apply this technology in a way that has not been done before. This work is of great significance to us, with the long-term potential to translate our research from the bench to the bedside of patients."
Where computed tomography, or CT, scans are often used, the Microfocus CT system offered the researchers a view similar to that of an optical microscope. To create images, Microfocus CT takes thousands of 2-dimensional images, which it uses to render a 3D image.
After scanning patient samples, the researchers almost immediately disproved a theory that fibrosis formed from the outside of the lung moving inward with IPF patients. The images instead revealed multiple points of fibrosis that grow on their own both inside and outside the lung tissue.
"Whilst accurate diagnosis of IPF is essential to start the correct treatment, in certain cases this can be extremely challenging to do using the tools currently available," said Dr. Mark Jones, a Wellcome Trust fellow at the University of Southampton. "This technology advance is very exciting as for the first time it gives us the chance to view lung biopsy samples in 3D. We think that the new information gained from seeing the lung in 3D has the potential to transform how diseases such as IPF are diagnosed."