X-Ray Dark-Field Imaging in Healthy Human Subjects

A German team building on the dark-field x-ray imaging technique introduced in 2008 has published a study in Radiology on August 24, 2021, that introduces “the qualitative and quantitative characteristics of x-ray dark-field images obtained in healthy subjects,” according to lead author and team lead Florian Gassert of the Technical University of Munich.

“As opposed to attenuation[-]based conventional radiography, x-ray dark-field radiography takes advantage of the wave properties of x-rays, specifically, ultra-small-angle scattering taking place at the material interfaces within the specimen under investigation. In analogy to dark-field light microscopy, dark field in this context refers to the bright appearance of scattering objects on a dark background. Since the contrast is generated by multiple refractions on microstructures, healthy lungs have a relatively high signal due to their many air-tissue interfaces in the alveoli,” explains Gassert, et al.

By establishing the qualitative and quantitative characteristics in healthy human lungs, and showing that patient sex or other characteristics don’t affect the calculated coefficient, the team has established a standard by which lung disease can be measured. “The normalized dark-field coefficient does not show a correlation with any of the examined physical characteristics (age, sex, weight, and height) for all subjects, for men only, or for women only. These findings prove that the dark-field signal is indeed sensitive to the subject’s lung condition alone and is independent from demographic factors, highlighting its potential value for diagnosis and monitoring of respiratory diseases.”


Florian T. Gassert, Theresa Urban, Manuela Frank, Konstantin Willer, Wolfgang Noichl, Philipp Buchberger, Rafael Schick, Thomas Koehler, Jens von Berg, Alexander A. Fingerle, Andreas P. Sauter, Marcus R. Makowski, Daniela Pfeiffer, and Franz Pfeiffer. X-ray Dark-Field Chest Imaging: Qualitative and Quantitative Results in Healthy Humans. Online August 24, 2021 Radiology. Accessed August 31, 2021, at https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/radiol.2021210963

Scherer, K., Yaroshenko, A., Bölükbas, D.A. et al. X-ray Dark-field Radiography – In-Vivo Diagnosis of Lung Cancer in Mice. Sci Rep 7, 402 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-00489-x Accessed August 31, 2021, at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-00489-x

Morton, Will. New x-ray imaging technique emerges from the dark. August 26, 2021, AuntMinnie.com. Accessed August 31, 2021, at https://www.auntminnie.com/index.aspx?sec=sup&sub=xra&pag=dis&ItemID=133329

X-ray dark-field imaging of a mouse model showing the bright signal from the lungs (lower image) versus the bright signal from the bones in a conventional x-ray (upper image).

Image by Scherer, K., et al. Provided under the CC-BY license.