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New Medical Imaging Technique First to Use Low-Dose X-Rays to Reveal Soft Tissue

2-D and 3-D Technology

Because the technique itself produces good contrast, another advantage of DEI is that it does not require the use of contrast agents, which are chemicals injected into the body before imaging to distinguish among different tissue types. “For screening, contrast agents are often undesirable since they complicate the procedure and may have side effects,” Zhong explains. Being free of the need for contrast agents, this makes DEI viable as a potential screening tool for breast cancer.

Since medical centers do not have synchrotrons, Zhong and his team are working on transferring two-dimensional DEI technology out of the Laboratory. To make three-dimensional images, they are developing a DEI computed-tomography method useful for making scans of more complex anatomy. But, even in its present form, “DEI provides far greater structural information than conventional radiography,” concludes Zhong.” And this new technology can only stimulate the further development of x-ray imaging.”

Meet Zhong Zhong

“The multi-disciplinary working environment at the National Synchrotron Light Source enabled my collaborators and me to turn what was initially a curiosity-driven physics experiment into a biomedical imaging project.”
- Zhong Zhong

During the ten years that physicist Zhong Zhong has been performing research at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), starting as a graduate student in 1993 and, since 1998, as an NSLS staff physicist, he has worked on projects that have produced two patents in the field of medical imaging.

In 1999, he and two NSLS colleagues received a patent for the new soft-tissue x-ray imaging technique called diffraction enhanced imaging (DEI), which, using x-rays, allows soft tissue to be viewed with more detail and clarity than conventional imaging methods. This year, the application of DEI to cartilage imaging was patented. Now, two additional patents are pending that will bring the new technique to medical centers. In the future, Zhong wants to continue other research that he has begun using crystals to improve the focusing of high-energy x-rays, studies that may lead to better synchrotron light sources.

Zhong earned his B.S. in physics from Beijing University, China, in 1990; received an M.S. in applied physics from Michigan Technological University in 1992; and, in 1996, took his Ph.D. in physics from Stony Brook University (SBU). Today, he serves an assistant adjunct professor in the Department of Radiology and an assistant professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department, both at SBU.

In addition to spending his free time with his wife and two daughters, he enjoys fixing up his house, working on his two old cars, and doing vegetable gardening.

More Information

  • Funding: National Institutes of Health, GlaxoSmithKline, Inc., and the U.S. Department of Energy
  • Paper: “Radiography of soft tissue of the foot and ankle with diffraction enhanced imaging,” Journal of Anatomy, May 2003, volume 202, issue 5, pp. 463-70
  • Contact: Zhong Zhong,  or (631) 344-2117
  • Web:
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