Stunning three-dimensional images of the inner workings of the body are produced by a new type of scanner that was unveiled yesterday.

The images show skeletons, organs and blood vessels as they appear when dissected so that every detail of their function can be examined. They can also be rotated so that they can be viewed from every angle.

The Philips scanner combines large numbers of X-ray "slices" through the body into the 3-D images which look uncannily real. New technology has reduced the radiation dose to patients compared with conventional scanners, the manufacturer says.

The development marks another advance in computed tomography (CT) scanning, which has transformed modern medical diagnosis.

The first commercial CT scanner was invented by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield at the EMI Central Research Laboratories in Hayes, Middelsex. Some claim the CT scanner is the greatest legacy of the Beatles as it was the huge profits from their worldwide success that enabled EMI, to whom the band was signed, to fund scientific research.

It was called the EMI scanner and it used X-rays to produce the images, each scan taking a little over five minutes. The first production machine was installed in Atkinson Morley's Hospital in Wimbledon, which specialised in brain surgery, and the first brain scan of a patient was done in 1972.

About the same time, an American scientist, Allan Cormack of Tufts University, Massachusetts, independently invented a similar process and he and Sir Godfrey were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1979.

Multi-slice CT scanners were developed in the 1990s and can now take up to 64 slices through the body, at increased speeds and high resolution to produce the 3-D images of internal organs, bones and blood vessels. The speed means large organs such as the heart can be scanned in a fraction of the time required previously so that their function can be observed.

Millions of scans are performed worldwide every year. The scanning technique allows doctors to identify tumours and other causes of tissue damage with great accuracy and to tailor their treatment accordingly. It has improved scientists' understanding of the functions of the human body and brain and added precision to surgery.

Although expensive, it has become the gold standard in the diagnosis of certain diseases, having overtaken the use of X-rays and ultrasound.

Steve Rusckowski, chief executive of Philips Medical Systems, who launched the Brilliance CT scanner at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, said: "We are seeking to make a difference in how radiologists can prevent, diagnose, treat and monitor disease and allow them to focus more on their patients.

"This scanner ... is so powerful it can capture an image of the entire heart in just two beats while also including technology that has reduced radiation doses by up to 80 per cent."

The cost of the machine has not yet been disclosed.

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