"A new method for scanning children's livers for tumours could prevent them being exposed to unnecessary radiation," BBC News reports.
The scanner, based on ultrasound technology, successfully identified liver tumours (which are rare in children).
Usually the liver is initially examined using a standard “grey scale” ultrasound, but this often does not give enough diagnostic information.
The next option in these types of cases is a computerised tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan involves the use of ionising radiation(lead suits for radiation) that carries a potential, if unproven, risk to the child.
There is also the option of using an MRI scanner but this is often upsetting to a child (many find the combination of a being in an enclosed space and being exposed to loud noises traumatic) and many children require sedation.
So an accurate alternative would be a useful advancement.
The technique being studied is called contrast enhanced ultrasonography (CEUS) and is currently available for use in adults only. It involves using a combination of an ultrasound scanner and a contrast agent.
The contrast agent "lights up" healthy tissue on the scan-hence the reference to a "field of gold" in the BBC's headline. In contrast, abnormal sections of tissue, such as tumours, appear as black holes.
The study found that CEUS was highly accurate, agreeing with the diagnoses made by CT or MRI scanning in 85% of cases, with no adverse effects observed. It was able to reliably differentiate harmless from cancerous lesions.
So far the number of children examined by this technique has been small, though this is unavoidable given the rarity of liver conditions among the child population as a whole. Further study in larger numbers of children undergoing diagnostic imaging for liver lesions is required.
Overall, the results seem promising.