Since the advent of the X-ray more than 100 years ago, doctors have peered inside the human body. But, until recently, the most they were able to detect was a broken bone or the presence of a sizable tumor.
Now, with advances in genetic research, the makers of medical imaging equipment are retooling their cameras to spot tiny changes within cells that signal the start of a disease — the point at which doctors have the best shot at a cure.
“It’s totally different from the way we take care of patients now,” said Dr. Samuel Wickline, professor of medicine, physical and biomedical engineering at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. “Molecular imaging will enable you to detect the early stages of disease.”
For patients, it offers the promise of finding diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer years before clear symptoms develop. For pharmaceutical companies, it promises to speed drugs to market by letting scientists see whether drugs work within days, rather than taking weeks or months.