The mystery of X-rays

From the pioneer Röntgen to contrast agents

Anatomic drawing by Leonardo Da VinciFondazione Bracco

 Medicine before X-rays

Medical science has always tried its best to explore inside the human body. Up until the end of the 19th century only anatomical illustrations existed, which were based on a very close collaboration between anatomists, artists and illustrators.The successful outcome of surgery was based solely on the analysis of symptoms, an external examination of the area to be operated on and the experience of the surgeon. But with the advent of radiography, X-rays gave, for the first time, the opportunity to “see” through tissue prior to surgical intervention, thus allowing for a better diagnosis, being able to visualise the human body as never before.

Anatomic drawing by Leonardo Da VinciFondazione Bracco

W. Rontgen - portraitFondazione Bracco

X-rays. A casual discovery

X-radiation was discovered by the German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in 1895,a discovery which earned him the Nobel Prize in 1901. As with many other scientific discoveries, X-rays came about by chance.The story goes that while experimenting with cathode rays, Röntgen noticed that a screen suffused with a fluorescent susbstance seemed to give off a weak light. He realised that these new rays were capable of passing through bodies and leaving an impression on a photographic plate. Given the mysterious nature of the emissions, he called them “X”. The first X-ray in history was carried out by Röntgen, who used the technique to photograph his wife’s hand with a ring on her finger.

Rontgen ApparatusFondazione Bracco

The discovery of X-raysFondazione Bracco

X Ray - pop compositionFondazione Bracco

Godfrey Hounsfield, pictureFondazione Bracco

Computed tomography. From shadows to slices

The evolution of X-rays has given us Computed Tomography (CT). Unlike a classic X-ray, the tomographic apparatus travels along or around the part of the body to be examined, photographing it from different angles. A computer processes and further clarifies the images using a complex mathematical calculation. The result is a long series of images“in layers”, which show with great accuracy the tissue studied at different depths.In this way it is possible to reconstruct a three-dimensional model of the part of the body being explored.

Godfrey Hounsfield machine, sketchFondazione Bracco

Tomography - pop compositionFondazione Bracco

Computed TomographyFondazione Bracco

Ipamidol MoleculeFondazione Bracco

The use of contrast agents

To increase the effectiveness of X-ray examinations, special susbtances called contrast agents are used. These are liquids containing dense chemical elements such as barium or iodine which, once ingested or injected into the bloodstream, amplify the difference in opacity of the various tissues. Certain contraindications and undesired effects linked to the first iodised molecules to come in use prompted researchers to look for alternative solutions and more harmless molecules. So it was that in 1974, as well as other analogous products, Bracco created the first non-ionic ready-to-use contrast agent. It has a high level of tolerability, is not metabolised and is eliminated unchanged in urine.It is widely used in computed tomography, angiography, arthrography, myelography, urography and in the visualisation of the gastrointestinal tract.

Credits: Story

The previous contents are taken from the exhibition:
The Beauty of Imaging
Triennale di Milano
Milan, 27th May – 2nd July 2017

The exhibition was promoted by Bracco Group on the occasion of its 90th anniversary. It was curated by FeelRouge Worldwide Shows with the artistic supervision of Marco Balich and concept & design by Giò Forma Studio.
Thanks to the institutions, museums and authorities that granted access to the resources and archives.

After the Milanese edition, attended by more than 10,000 visitors, The Beauty of Imaging was then hosted at the Città della Scienza in Naples (10 October 2018 - 6 January 2019), where it took an educational stance with 5 workshops dedicated to schools: “A terrestrial X-Ray”, “See the invisible”, “Molecules in movement”, “Looking for magnetic resonance, X-Rays, ultrasounds of artists!” and “The thousand lives of imaging: a journey between art and science”.
The Beauty of Imaging has thus become the greatest educational event ever done on diagnostic imaging, welcoming over 55,000 people, including many schools/elementary school students.

Thanks for the cooperation in the content’s creation to:
Bracco Imaging
CDI – Italian Diagnostic Centre
Bracco Foundation
Bracco historic archive
C&I Department, Bracco Group

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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