What Is a Micro CT Scan?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2018
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Computerized Tomography (CT) scans were developed in the 1970s and typically use x-rays to produce images of inside the body. In the 1980s, x-ray Microcomputed Tomography (Micro CT) scanners were created. These generally have a resolution that is about 1,000,000 times better than the original machines. Images are composed of volume elements called voxels, which are typically 5-50 micrometers in size with a Micro CT scan image. The machinery used for the scan is often part of medical testing as well as industrial research, biological analysis, and education.

A Micro CT scan generally uses multiple x-ray sources and a machine that rotates 180°, while detectors pick up the emissions in high resolution. Reconstructed in three dimensions, images reflect a spatial representation of how the x-ray energy passes through a person’s or animal’s anatomy. The pictures of a body or object are divided up into slices of each section imaged by the scan.


All of the slices produced by a Micro CT scan are typically stacked to build the three-dimensional image. Specialized software can also be used to view the picture from different angles or otherwise manipulate it without doing damage. The benefits of a Micro CT scan include the opportunity to view body parts, usually without invasive procedures. It can be used for dental applications; for example, in assessing tooth structure before a root canal is performed. Images of the space, structures, and curvature near the nerve root can help dentists model a patient’s anatomy prior to any procedure.

In addition to imaging organs, a Micro CT scanner can also be used to see the structure and growth of facial bones. Simulations are sometimes performed on computers based on the images, so that dentists can develop implants that fit correctly. Physicians can also diagnose serious conditions before determining the best treatment. More complex structures such as bone and soft tissue can also be reconstructed by a Micro CT scan; researchers believe this can aid in engineering bone and organ tissue for implantation.

Although the radiation doses can vary depending on the patient, the side effects of a Micro CT scan are often because of allergic reactions to injected contrast materials, such as iodine. These sometimes include itchiness, trouble breathing, or hives. Test results can be misinterpreted as well, while many medical conditions, such as hypertension, are not detectable by this method. Other uses for a Micro CT scan include the visualization of ancient artifacts, analysis of rocks, and digital dissections of animal anatomy.



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