What are the challenges faced in imaging lungs using CT today?

  • Covid-19, like other viral pneumonias, creates both lung inflammation and fibrosis. Current CT is non-specific and can only measure inflammation and fibrosis late in the disease, making diagnosis and treatment monitoring difficult. Therefore, MBI and its MARS partners around the world would like to use targeted nanoparticles to image lung inflammation. These can be either new nanoparticles or particles developed for inflammation elsewhere in the body.
  • Covid-19 infection also damages the heart. It has been observed that some patients who seemed to recover may die because of heart inflammation. Similarly to lung inflammation, nanoparticles could be used for heart imaging.

Current state:

  • MBI is in contact with nanoparticle developers who have previously developed a range of targeted nanoparticles. These groups believe they can make targeted nanoparticles for Covid-19 diseases in 2-6 months ready for the first animal testing. Nanoparticle administration could be through inhalation or injection or a combination.
  • MBI has access to a limited number of animal models for lung injury. Therefore work can begin immediately.
  • MBI has a network of spectral photon counting scanners in the USA and Asia-Pacific region. In the coming months it is expected that sites will become available in Europe. These scanners have a very high sensitivity and specificity for nanoparticles. These scanners have been used for molecular imaging in other areas such as bone, lung Tb, and cancer (see figures on the right of this page).

MBI is seeking partners who have:

  • Groups who have access to animal models of lung inflammation or models specific to Covid-19 infection
  • Groups who can synthesize nanoparticles to lung or heart injury in order to expand the number of nanoparticles available for testing.

Contact information

Prof Anthony Butler
Clinical radiologist and lead clinical researcher

The First Human Images from MARS

MARS scanners go beyond the traditional black-and-white CT to produce color images where different materials can be separated. In the images above, metal, soft tissue, fat and bone are all being identified. We have a commercial small bore scanner and are currently developing a human-scale machine.


The video below shows how a MARS image is made up of multiple material layers. In this case, calcium, fat and soft tissue. It’s because of being able to measure the energy of the photons that the materials can be distinguished and quantified.

Learn More

Create Quantitative 3D Images with MARS

Spectral Detectors

capture the color of x-rays

Medipix3 + High-Z

sensors increase x-ray conversion efficiency and reduce noise for optimal spatial, temporal and spectral (energy) resolution

Molecular Quantification

harness the color of x-rays

Recon+Processing Server

automatically produces a set of 3D image volumes containing each targeted element/compound (mg/mL) within minutes

Imaging Tools

visualize the color of x-rays

Vision Workstation+zSpace

interactive Virtual Reality system displays the element/compound 3D volumes for user-friendly sample evaluation and analysis

Pre-clinical spectral scanner

  • Medpix3 detectors bonded to high-Z sensors at 110 micron pitch with 8 energy bins per pixel and 2 ms frame readout
  • 120 kVp, 350 μA x-ray source with helical scan mode
  • Precision horizontal in vivo sample stage with gas lines, monitoring inputs and temperature sensors
  • Iterative reconstruction and processing algorithms quantify the concentration of elements and compounds in mg/mL
  • Visualization workstation with HP Zvr 3D virtual reality display for image analysis

Molecular imaging without radiotracers

MARS promises to revolutionize diagnostic imaging by quantifying the elements and compounds of a sample in a single scan. It is the first commercially available 3D spectral (multi-energy) scanner to produce in vivo images with anatomic and molecular quantification at a fraction of the cost, time, and radiation dose of traditional molecular imaging, such as PET or SPECT.

The Medipix spectral x-ray detector technology was originally developed at CERN for the LHC and modified for medical applications; it is the result of 20+ years of collaborative innovation.

Our customers

My lab is pleased to feature the MARS photon-counting micro-CT in our research and development of targeted nanoparticle imaging probes for contrast-enhanced CT and quantitative molecular imaging with spectral (multi-energy) CT.

The MARS system is the only product on the market that enables my cutting-edge research to move forward as fast as possible. We are able to transition seamlessly between translation studies spanning from imaging phantoms to in vivo murine models.

Prof Ryan K. Roeder, University of Notre Dame

The MARS scanner in UOC has provided an opportunity to Christchurch researchers to be at the forefront of developing new clinical applications for photon counting CT modality.

By using this novel system, my research group has produced remarkable results on many aspects of the medical applications of spectral CT imaging such as molecular imaging of tumours, drug delivery, atherosclerosis and bone quality

Dr Aamir Younis Raja, University of Otago, Christchurch

My lab is blessed to have the latest MARS photon-counting micro-CT scanner. This spectral (multi-energy) CT will be used  for preclinical research and development and translation to clinical applications such as targeted nanoparticle imaging and quantitative molecular imaging.

The MARS system is the only product in the market that enables important investigations with photon-counting detectors and redefines the state of the art.

Chair Professor Ge Wang, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The MARS scanner gives us the ability to rapidly and non-destructively characterise atherosclerotic plaques at high resolutions.

Without this technology we would be unable to compare the biochemistry of the plaques and understand the effect of calcification on cell behaviour.

Assoc Prof Steven Gieseg, University of Canterbury, Christchurch