Medical imaging refers to the techniques and processes used to create images of the human body (or parts and function thereof) for clinical purposes (medical procedures seeking to reveal, diagnose or examine disease) or medical science (including the study of normal anatomy and physiology).
As a discipline and in its widest sense, it is part of biological imaging and incorporates radiology (in the wider sense), nuclear medicine, investigative radiological sciences, endoscopy, (medical) thermography, medical photography and microscopy (e.g. for human pathological investigations).
Measurement and recording techniques which are not primarily designed to produce images, such as electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), Electrocardiography (EKG) and others, but which produce data susceptible to be represented as maps (i.e. containing positional information), can be seen as forms of medical imaging.
In the clinical context, medical imaging is generally equated to radiology or "clinical imaging" and the medical practitioner responsible for interpreting (and sometimes acquiring) the images is a radiologist. Diagnostic radiography designates the technical aspects of medical imaging and in particular the acquisition of medical images. The radiographer or radiologic technologist is usually responsible for acquiring medical images of diagnostic quality, although some radiological interventions are performed by radiologists. While radiology is an evaluation of anatomy, nuclear medicine provides functional assessment.
As a field of scientific investigation, medical imaging constitutes a sub-discipline of biomedical engineering, medical physics or medicine depending on the context: Research and development in the area of instrumentation, image acquisition (e.g. radiography), modelling and quantification are usually the preserve of biomedical engineering, medical physics and computer science; Research into the application and interpretation of medical images is usually the preserve of radiology and the medical sub-discipline relevant to medical condition or area of medical science (neuroscience, cardiology, psychiatry, psychology, etc) under investigation. Many of the techniques developed for medical imaging also have scientific and industrial applications.
Medical imaging is often perceived to designate the set of techniques that noninvasively produce images of the internal aspect of the body. In this restricted sense, medical imaging can be seen as the solution of mathematical inverse problems. This means that cause (the properties of living tissue) is inferred from effect (the observed signal). In the case of ultrasonography the probe consists of ultrasonic pressure waves and echoes inside the tissue show the internal structure. In the case of projection radiography, the probe is X-ray radiation which is absorbed at different rates in different tissue types such as bone, muscle and fat.
The electron microscope is a microscope that can magnify very small details with high resolving power due to the use of electrons as the source of illumination, magnifying at levels up to 2,000,000 times.
Electron microscopy is employed in anatomic pathology to identify organelles within the cells. Its usefulness has been greatly reduced by immunhistochemistry but it is still irreplaceable for the diagnosis of kidney disease, identification of immotile cilia syndrome and many other tasks
Two forms of radiographic images are in use in medical imaging; projection radiography and fluoroscopy, with latter useful for intraoperative and catheter guidance. These 2D techniques are still in wide use despite the advance of 3D tomography due to the low cost, high resolution, and depending on application, lower radiation dosages. This imaging modality utilizes a wide beam of x rays for image acquisition and is the first imaging technique available in modern medicine.
Fluoroscopy produces real-time images of internal structures of the body in a similar fashion to radiography, but employs a constant input of x-rays, at a lower dose rate. Contrast media, such as barium, iodine, and air are used to visualize internal organs as they work. Fluoroscopy is also used in image-guided procedures when constant feedback during a procedure is required. An image receptor is required to convert the radiation into an image after it has passed through the area of interest. Early on this was a fluorescing screen, which gave way to an Image Amplifier (IA) which was a large vacuum tube that had the receiving end coated with cesium iodide, and a mirror at the opposite end. Eventually the mirror was replaced with a TV camera.
Projectional radiographs, more commonly known as x-rays, are often used to determine the type and extent of a fracture as well as for detecting pathological changes in the lungs. With the use of radio-opaque contrast media, such as barium, they can also be used to visualize the structure of the stomach and intestines - this can help diagnose ulcers or certain types of colon cancer.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
A magnetic resonance imaging instrument (MRI scanner), or "nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging" scanner as it was originally known, uses powerful magnets to polarise and excite hydrogen nuclei (single proton) in water molecules in human tissue, producing a detectable signal which is spatially encoded, resulting in images of the body. MRI uses three electromagnetic fields: a very strong (on the order of units of teslas) static magnetic field to polarize the hydrogen nuclei, called the static field; a weaker time-varying (on the order of 1 kHz) field(s) for spatial encoding, called the gradient field(s); and a weak radio-frequency (RF) field for manipulation of the hydrogen nuclei to produce measurable signals, collected through an RF antenna.
Like CT, MRI traditionally creates a two dimensional image of a thin "slice" of the body and is therefore considered a tomographic imaging technique. Modern MRI instruments are capable of producing images in the form of 3D blocks, which may be considered a generalisation of the single-slice, tomographic, concept. Unlike CT, MRI does not involve the use of ionizing radiation and is therefore not associated with the same health hazards. For example, because MRI has only been in use since the early 1980s, there are no known long-term effects of exposure to strong static fields (this is the subject of some debate; see 'Safety' in MRI) and therefore there is no limit to the number of scans to which an individual can be subjected, in contrast with X-ray and CT. However, there are well-identified health risks associated with tissue heating from exposure to the RF field and the presence of implanted devices in the body, such as pace makers. These risks are strictly controlled as part of the design of the instrument and the scanning protocols used.
Because CT and MRI are sensitive to different tissue properties, the appearance of the images obtained with the two techniques differ markedly. In CT, X-rays must be blocked by some form of dense tissue to create an image, so the image quality when looking at soft tissues will be poor. In MRI, while any nucleus with a net nuclear spin can be used, the proton of the hydrogen atom remains the most widely used, especially in the clinical setting, because it is so ubiquitous and returns a large signal. This nucleus, present in water molecules, allows the excellent soft-tissue contrast achievable with MRI.
Nuclear medicine encompasses both diagnostic imaging and treatment of disease, and may also be referred to as molecular medicine or molecular imaging & therapeutics . Nuclear medicine uses certain properties of isotopes and the energetic particles emitted from radioactive material to diagnose or treat various pathology. Different from the typical concept of anatomic radiology, nuclear medicine enables assessment of physiology. This function-based approach to medical evaluation has useful applications in most subspecialties, notably oncology, neurology, and cardiology.
Gamma cameras are used in nuclear medicine to detect regions of biologic activity that may be associated with disease. Relatively short lived isotope, such as 123I is administered to the patient. Isotopes are often preferentially absorbed by biologically active tissue in the body, and can be used to identify tumors or fracture points in bone. Images are acquired after collimated photons are detected by a crystal that gives off a light signal, which is in turn amplified and converted into count data. Gamma cameras can have a variable number of detector heads with two being the most common configuration. 2D planar images can be acquired of the body or multiple time-capture images can be combined into a dynamic sequence cine of a physiologic process over time. A 3D tomographic technique known as SPECT uses gamma camera data from many projections and can be reconstructed in different planes. A dual detector head gamma camera combined with a CT scanner, which provides localization of functional SPECT data, is termed a SPECT/CT camera, and has shown utility in advancing the field of molecular imaging.
Positron emission tomography (PET) uses coincidence detection to image functional processes. Short-lived positron emitting isotope, such as 18F, is incorporated with an organic substance such as glucose, creating F18-fluorodeoxyglucose, which can be used as a marker of metabolic utilization. Images of activity distribution throughout the body can show rapidly growing tissue, like tumor, metastasis, or infection. PET images can be viewed in comparison to computed tomography scans to determine an anatomic correlate. Modern scanners combine PET with a CT, or even MRI, to optimize the image reconstruction involved with positron imaging. This is performed on the same equipment without physically moving the patient off of the gantry. The resultant hybrid of functional and anatomic imaging information is a useful tool in non-invasive diagnosis and patient management.
Nuclear medicine therapy includes treatment with unsealed radioactive material in various forms, including free beta radiation emitting isotope, bound to antibody (radioimmunotherapy), and directly administered, as in resin microsphere therapy. Imaging aspects to many of these therapeutic procedures can add to the evaluation of efficacy.
Photoacoustic imaging is a recently developed hybrid biomedical imaging modality based on the photoacoustic effect. It combines the advantages of optical absorption contrast with ultrasonic spatial resolution for deep imaging in (optical) diffusive or quasi-diffusive regime. Recent studies have shown that photoacoustic imaging can be used in vivo for tumor angiogenesis monitoring, blood oxygenation mapping, functional brain imaging, and skin melanoma detection, etc.
Needs main article Digital Infrared Imaging Thermography is based on the principle that metabolic activity and vascular circulation in both pre-cancerous tissue and the area surrounding a developing breast cancer is almost always higher than in normal breast tissue. Cancerous tumors require an ever-increasing supply of nutrients and therefore increase circulation to their cells by holding open existing blood vessels, opening dormant vessels, and creating new ones (neoangiogenesis). This process frequently results in an increase in regional surface temperatures of the breast. Digital Infrared Imaging uses extremely sensitive medical infrared cameras and sophisticated computers to detect, analyze, and produce high-resolution diagnostic images of these temperature variations. Because of DII’s sensitivity, these temperature variations may be among the earliest signs of breast cancer and/or a pre-cancerous state of the breast.
Tomography is the method of imaging a single plane, or slice, of an object resulting in a tomogram. There are several forms of tomography:
Linear tomography: This is the most basic form of tomography. The X-ray tube moved from point "A" to point "B" above the patient, while the cassette holder (or "bucky") moves simultaneously under the patient from point "B" to point "A." The fulcrum, or pivot point, is set to the area of interest. In this manner, the points above and below the focal plane are blurred out, just as the background is blurred when panning a camera during exposure. No longer carried out and replaced by computed tomography.
Poly tomography: This was a complex form of tomography. With this technique, a number of geometrical movements were programmed, such as hypocycloidic, circular, figure 8, and elliptical. Philips Medical Systems  produced one such device called the 'Polytome.' This unit was still in use into the 1990s, as its resulting images for small or difficult physiology, such as the inner ear, was still difficult to image with CTs at that time. As the resolution of CTs got better, this procedure was taken over by the CT.
Zonography: This is a variant of linear tomography, where a limited arc of movement is used. It is still used in some centres for visualising the kidney during an intravenous urogram (IVU).
Orthopantomography (OPT or OPG): The only common tomographic examination in use. This makes use of a complex movement to allow the radiographic examination of the mandible, as if it were a flat bone. It is often referred to as a "Panorex", but this is incorrect, as it is a trademark of a specific company's equipment
Computed Tomography (CT), or Computed Axial Tomography (CAT): A CT scan, also known as a CAT scan, is a helical tomography (latest generation), which traditionally produces a 2D image of the structures in a thin section of the body. It uses X-rays. It has a greater ionizing radiation dose burden than projection radiography; repeated scans must be limited to avoid health effects.
Medical ultrasonography uses high frequency broadband sound waves in the megahertz range that are reflected by tissue to varying degrees to produce (up to 3D) images. This is commonly associated with imaging the fetus in pregnant women. Uses of ultrasound are much broader, however. Other important uses include imaging the abdominal organs, heart, breast, muscles, tendons, arteries and veins. While it may provide less anatomical detail than techniques such as CT or MRI, it has several advantages which make it ideal in numerous situations, in particular that it studies the function of moving structures in real-time, emits no ionizing radiation, and contains speckle that can be used in elastography. It is very safe to use and does not appear to cause any adverse effects, although information on this is not well documented. It is also relatively inexpensive and quick to perform. Ultrasound scanners can be taken to critically ill patients in intensive care units, avoiding the danger caused while moving the patient to the radiology department. The real time moving image obtained can be used to guide drainage and biopsy procedures. Doppler capabilities on modern scanners allow the blood flow in arteries and veins to be assessed.
Medical imaging topics
Creation of three-dimensional images
Recently, techniques have been developed to enable CT, MRI and ultrasound scanning software to produce 3D images for the physician. Traditionally CT and MRI scans produced 2D static output on film. To produce 3D images, many scans are made, then combined by computers to produce a 3D model, which can then be manipulated by the physician. 3D ultrasounds are produced using a somewhat similar technique.
With the ability to visualize important structures in great detail, 3D visualization methods are a valuable resource for the diagnosis and surgical treatment of many pathologies. It was a key resource for the famous, but ultimately unsuccessful attempt by Singaporean surgeons to separate Iranian twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani in 2003. The 3D equipment was used previously for similar operations with great success.
Other proposed or developed techniques include:
Diffuse optical tomography
Electrical impedance tomography
Optical coherence tomography
Scanning laser ophthalmoscopy
Some of these techniques are still at a research stage and not yet used in clinical routines.
Neuroimaging has also been used in experimental circumstances to allow people (especially disabled persons) to control outside devices, acting as a brain computer interface
Open source software
Several open source software packages are available for performing analysis of medical images:
Use in Pharmaceutical Clinical Trials
Medical imaging has become a major tool in clinical trials since it enables rapid diagnosis with visualization and quantitative assessment.
A typical clinical trial goes through multiple phases and can take up to eight years. Clinical endpoints or outcomes are used to determine whether the therapy is safe and effective. Once a patient reaches the endpoint, he/she is generally excluded from further experimental interaction. Trials that rely solely on clinical endpoints are very costly as they have long durations and tend to need large number of patients.
In contrast to clinical endpoints, surrogate endpoints have been shown to cut down the time required to confirm whether a drug has clinical benefits. Imaging biomarkers (a characteristic that is objectively measured by an imaging technique, which is used as an indicator of pharmacological response to a therapy) and surrogate endpoints have shown to facilitate the use of small group sizes, obtaining quick results with good statistical power.
Imaging is able to reveal subtle change that is indicative of the progression of therapy that may be missed out by more subjective, traditional approaches. Statistical bias is reduced as the findings are evaluated without any direct patient contact.
For example, measurement of tumour shrinkage is a commonly used surrogate endpoint in solid tumour response evaluation. This allows for faster and more objective assessment of the effects of anticancer drugs. In evaluating the extent of Alzheimer’s disease, it is still prevalent to use behavioural and cognitive tests. MRI scans on the entire brain can accurately pinpoint hippocampal atrophy rate while PET scans is able to measure the brain’s metabolic activity by measuring regional glucose metabolism. 
An imaging-based trial will usually be made up of three components:
1. A realistic imaging protocol. The protocol is an outline that standardizes (as far as practically possible) the way in which the images are acquired using the various modalities (PET, SPECT, CT, MRI). It covers the specifics in which images are to be stored, processes and evaluated.
2. An imaging centre that is responsible for collecting the images, perform quality control and provide tools for data storage, distribution and analysis. It is important for images acquired at different time points are displayed in a standardised format to maintain the reliability of the evaluation. Certain specialised imaging contract research organizations provide to end medical imaging services, from protocol design and site management through to data quality assurance and image analysis.
3. Clinical sites that recruit patients to generate the images to send back to the imaging centre.