How does this add value to the diagnostic process?
Pfeiffer: The technique has a significantly higher sensitivity for early changes, allowing us to detect COVID-19 better than we would via conventional X-ray imaging. This gives us a "high resolution" image of the tissue as it were – like a histological section you examine as a pathology slide under the microscope, except you view it inside the patient.
What prompted this development originally?
Pfeiffer: We originally discovered this contrast modality over twelve years ago and studied it for microscopic applications on tissue samples. Six or seven years ago, we developed a prototype for small animal imaging, which worked well. This prompted us to progressively lay the technical foundation to transfer the concept to humans. The University Hospital rechts der Isar ("Klinikum rechts der Isar") of the Technical University of Munich now features the first prototype that is approved for human use. We are using it to conduct the first clinical trials.
What other possible applications do you see for the technology?
Pfeiffer: The radiologists who apply it or learn about it at conferences primarily view it as a technique to diagnose different lung disorders and assist follow-up care. It is obviously a big field, starting with COVID-19 and Long COVID support and monitoring, ranging to other lung diseases such as COPD or pulmonary fibrosis. It could also facilitate the accuracy of lung cancer screening.
Needless to say, X-ray imaging applications beyond the lungs are also a conceivable option. One could use other contrast materials aside from iodine, which would protect the kidneys. However, research has not yet progressed to that point.