Small-Animal Imaging with Liquid-Metal-Jet X-Ray Sources
Abstract: Small-animal x-ray imaging is an important tool for medical research. The penetration power of x-rays makes it possible to investigate the 3D structure of small animals and other thick biological samples by computed tomography (CT). However, small-animal x-ray imaging often requires high resolution due to the small structures involved, and short exposure times due to sample movement. This constitutes a challenge, since these two properties require compact x-ray sources with parameters that are not widely available.In this Thesis we present the first application of liquid-metal-jet sources for small-animal imaging. This source concept was invented at KTH just over ten years ago. The use of a high-speed metal jet as electron-beam target, instead of a solid anode, enables higher x-ray flux while maintaining a small x-ray spot for high-resolution imaging. In the present work, a liquid-metal jet source with a higher-energy spectrum has been developed. It has stronger 24 keV radiation compared to previous sources, which makes it more suitable for imaging of small animals and other few-cm-thick objects, which require the higher penetration of 20-35 keV x-rays.We have applied the liquid-metal-jet x-ray sources for whole-body imaging of sacrificed mice and zebrafish. With high-resolution absorption-contrast CT we have visualized fine bone details of mice. We have also used phase contrast, a new method that can considerably improve imaging of, e.g., soft tissue, for demarcation of mm-sized tumors inside a full mouse and for mouse cartilage imaging. In zebrafish imaging, we have exploited the greatly enhanced contrast of phase-imaging to resolve single muscle fibers (and possibly even myofibrils) in whole zebrafish in a laboratory setting for the first time. The muscle structures have diameters in the 5-7 ?m range and extremely low contrast, which makes them difficult to observe.With phase contrast, we have demonstrated low-dose and high-resolution angiography of mouse and rat organs and tissues ex vivo. We show detection of blood vessels with diameters below 10 ?m with radiation doses compatible with living small animals, which is not possible with absorption contrast and iodinated contrast agents. In addition, we have investigated the vascular network of tumors in mouse ears and visualized the chaotic arrangement of newly-formed blood vessels.Finally, we present the first results from a new high-power liquid-metal-jet x-ray source prototype, operating at 10× the power of our previous sources, with the same x-ray spot size. This source constitutes an important step towards future in-vivo small-animal laboratory imaging with high resolution.
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