X-ray Phase Contrast Microtomography for Improved Pathology

Reconstructed slice of X-ray phase contrast microtomography from a human breast biopsy tissue, suspected of being affected by tumour development.

Examination and visualization of biological tissues in Pathology is an essential diagnosis method in medical practice. Currently used histological techniques rely on chemical fixation, staining, very thin sectioning and subsequent visible microscopy inspection of the tissue specimens extracted from the patient’s body. In this project, we aim to investigate and promote the use of X-ray phase contrast microtomography as a complementary method for histopathological techniques. Exploiting the higher sensitivity of X-ray phase contrast is particularly suited for biological soft tissues, for which ordinary X-ray absorption does not provide enough image contrast. The proposed approach may substantially reduce or remove completely the staining requirements of the specimens, thus allowing their examination in conditions closer to their natural state. In addition, X-ray microtomography does not destroy the tissue as the sectioning is virtually done a posteriori on its three-dimensional tomographic image reconstruction. A new laboratory X-ray grating interferometry setup is being assembled using novel state-of-art X-ray source and detector with expected fields of view up to 2.0 cm and high spatial resolutions (<10 µm). The new system will be optimized using actual specimens from the Kantonsspital Baden (Baden, Switzerland). The three-dimensional information obtained from the X-ray phase contrast microtomo-graphy will be later compared the images obtained by conventional histological techniques. If successful, the proposed X-ray phase contrast system could become a disruptive new tool for Pathology.