Originally designed for the analysis of substantial engineering parts, such as jet turbine blades, the powerful scanning equipment at Southampton's µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography, has been used to image Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) lung tissue samples for the first time.

IPF is usually diagnosed via a hospital CT scan or by using a microscope to view a lung biopsy sample however Southampton researchers have now successfully applied Microfocus CT to image biopsy samples. This allowed them to view each lung sample with a level of detail similar to an optical microscope but now in 3D.

Every year, there are over 5,000 new cases of IPF are diagnosed in the UK, and the number of cases is increasing by around 5 per cent every year. The condition, one of a group of disorders known collectively as interstitial lung diseases, causes inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue. This makes it increasingly difficult to breathe, and it leaves sufferers with a life expectancy of only three to five years.

The study's lead author Dr Mark Jones, a Wellcome Trust fellow from the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton, comments: "Whilst accurate diagnosis of IPF is essential to start the correct treatment, in certain cases this can be extremely challenging to do using the tools currently available. This technology advance is very exciting as for the first time it gives us the chance to view lung biopsy samples in 3D. We think that the new information gained from seeing the lung in 3D has the potential to transform how diseases such as IPF are diagnosed. It will also help to increase our understanding of how these scarring lung diseases develop which we hope will ultimately mean better targeted treatments are developed for every patient."

The Southampton team are now studying how they can take advantage of this method to help doctors improve the way we diagnose such diseases more accurately, to ensure every patient will receive the correct treatment.

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