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Phys Med Biol. 1997 Jul;42(7):1213-43.

Medical applications of synchrotron radiation x-rays.

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  • 1Daresbury Laboratory, Warrington, UK.


The use of synchrotron radiation is not widespread in the field of medicine and in fact few health-care professionals have even heard of it. It is the purpose of this article to explain what it is and to give some examples of how it can contribute to medical science. X-rays have been used for diagnostic medical imaging for more than 100 years and, whilst new techniques such as computed tomography have been developed, the means of producing x-rays has altered little during that time. Synchrotron radiation sources provide multiple, extremely intense and tuneable beams of photons over a huge range of energies from infrared through to hard x-rays. Their advent has revolutionized many experimental techniques and synchrotron radiation is being applied across many fields from imaging to molecular dynamics. It has spawned several methods for studying live and wet tissue samples, yielding information on both structure and composition on all length scales down to atomic resolution. Such techniques have played a crucial role in the development of molecular biology and the solution of protein structures. The application of synchrotron radiation in the field of radiography is now expanding and it is clear that very substantial improvements in image quality and patient dose can be realized. Following an overview of the production and properties of synchrotron radiation, some of the ways in which this remarkable tool has already been exploited for medical research are reviewed and some potential clinical opportunities highlighted.

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