London, January 29 : Rice University chemists have come up with an idea to improve X-ray images to such an extent that they will reveal the difference among soft tissues as clearly as they show the differences between bones and soft tissues.
In order to show up abnormal tissue, contrast agents containing strongly X-ray-scattering substances like iodine are used. Such agents accentuate areas where there is strong blood flow, such as in cancer tumours.
They, however, are quickly flushed through the body by the blood and cannot be targeted at specific cell types.
Lon Wilson and his colleagues say that a better way to improve X-ray images of soft tissues could be to utilise carbon nanotubes for the purpose, embedding them into living cells, reports New Scientist magazine.
The researchers propose to fill carbon nanotubes with iodine, coat them with a film of protein that bonds with specific types of cell, and allow the tubes to become embedded in the cells of interest.
They say not only will this give a greater choice of targets for analysis, but also allow images to be taken over a longer periods of time because the nanotubes are buried in situ rather than only passing through in the blood.