How Are You Reducing Radiation?

By Pete MacKay

Pet MacKay photoA few years back the FDA launched an initiative aimed at reducing radiation exposure in patients undergoing CT scans.  Clearly there are concerns with exposing the human body to ionizing radiation, and due to the prevalence and popularity of these imaging techniques the FDA feels they are in a position to ensure proactive steps are taken to minimize exposure.  They cite studies done in 2009 showing this total exposure to have nearly doubled in two decades in the US population.

Several factors come into play with cause and effect here, and the FDA is exploring several different perspectives.  Preventative measures start with educating patients, clinicians, and technicians, and altering approaches to therapy planning and the decision process around imaging studies.  The emergence of highly connected health enterprises (and society in general) enables a proposal to track cumulative dosage using tools like a national dosage registry and a patient medical imaging record – who knows, maybe just like Fido runs around with a chip in his neck we might all someday be implanted with a dosimeter along with our medical record?  Kidding aside, the obvious place to start with dosage reduction is with the device manufacturers themselves.

Not to carbon-date myself but I started in image processing back when an ALU was a very large (and warm) chip and processing functions comprised entire boards.  We needed big racks to accomplish a fraction of what’s now done in DSPs, GPUs, or even just coprocessor pipelines.  When I later worked for ADAC Laboratories in Milpitas, California – pioneers in nuclear medicine – I remember developing a network proxy (largely on my own time) for some of the embedded functionality of the piece I was working on.  We were building a transmissive system where a patient is radiated by a shuttered source on a robotic arm opposite sensors, and this prototype development took place in a lead-lined “safe” room.  I wrote code to run this machine from my desk so I wouldn’t have to spend time near the radiation.  One of our consultants chided me for this; he grabbed a Geiger counter and took four readings, the first two in the “safe” room with a barium source shuttered and un-shuttered, the next at my desk, and the last one in the parking lot outside.  Imagine my surprise to learn I did all that work only to find the lowest exposure was actually inside the safe room – even with a glowing source!

Fast forward to today… medical imaging device manufacturers are meeting dosage reduction goals with more sophisticated image processing algorithms that require massive processing power.  Engineering organizations now face cost reduction, tightened schedule expectations, and the demands of building extremely powerful yet flexible hardware/software architectures in a highly regulated environment.  Wind River can help meet these challenges with a range of integrated tools from Workbench to Wind River Test Management, performance-tuned compilers and libraries, advanced multi-core and virtualization technologies like Wind River Hypervisor, and systems expertise from Wind River Professional Services.  Wind River has helped manufacturers get all classes of medical devices approved for nearly the past three decades, and we can help meet radiation reduction imperatives in this one now.


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