Beyond sight: milestones in medical imaging from microscopes to microbubbles

Milestones in the story of the imaging techniques that have helped push science and medicine forward, from x-ray to nuclear techniques.

The Beauty of ImagingFondazione Bracco

The human eye is an extraordinary instrument. So why do we need other optical tools?

Watch this short video for a quick introduction to diagnostic imaging.

The optical microscopeFondazione Bracco

1660 - the microscope

Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek made his first observations through a simple microscope with just a little magnification.

He eventually made lenses with up to 250x magnification, letting him observe and describe numerous microorganisms - for the first time.

The discovery of X-raysFondazione Bracco

1895 - X-rays discovered

German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovered a new type of electromagnetic radiation that could pass through and 'photograph' the inside of the body.

He recognised its medical potential but refused to patent the discovery, preferring to donate it to humanity.

X-rays in the military sphereFondazione Bracco

1896 - X-rays used in medicine

During the Italian-Abyssinian war, Colonel Giuseppe Alvaro used X-rays to identify the position of fractures and projectiles in two wounded soldiers returning from the battlefield at Adwa.

This was the first ever application of X-rays in medicine.

The first female radiologistFondazione Bracco

1902 - first female radiologist

Irishwoman Florence Ada Stoney trained in the UK, as Ireland did not allow women to study medicine.

Despite experiencing sexual discrimination, Stoney proved herself in medical and radiological research and was awarded numerous honors for her work.

Felix BlochFondazione Bracco

1946 - magnetic resonance

US physicist Edward Purcell discovered the effects of magnetic resonance, heralding a new era of diagnostics entailing the interaction between magnetic fields, radio waves, and the body.

He won the Nobel Prize in 1952 with fellow physicist Felix Bloch.

Nuclear medicine becomes a reality in the field of medicineFondazione Bracco

~1950 - nuclear medicine

First used as treatment for thyroid disease, nuclear medicine became accepted as a technique of diagnostic imaging thanks to the emission of different radioactive isotopes, aiding the study of the brain, the kidneys, the heart and the bones.

Research on contrast agentsFondazione Bracco

1953 - research on contrast agents

In Switzerland, Fulvio Bracco founded Eprova, the scientific experimental centre, specializing in chemotherapy and anti-tubercular drug research.

There, he pioneered contrast agents - substances that help highlight parts of the body in diagnostic images.

Ian Donald and UltrasoundFondazione Bracco

1958 - ultrasound

Through his experience with radar and sonar during wartime, physicist Ian Donald created a remarkable instrument of peace: the ultrasound scan, which saved countless lives.

Computed TomographyFondazione Bracco

1967 - X-ray and CT

Physicists Godfrey Hounsfield (UK) and Allan MacLeod Cormack (South Africa) worked in labs thousands of miles apart.

But both thought to develop research into X-rays and computed tomography. Their intuition led to them sharing the Nobel Prize in 1979.

The arrival of positronsFondazione Bracco

1974 - positrons

When simple observation of the appearance of tissue was no longer sufficient, positron emission tomography (PET) came into play.

Invented by US biophysicist Michael E Phelps, this technology provides detailed maps of metabolic processes.

From the left: Diana Bracco, Ernst Hermann Felder, the chemist who synthesised the molecule of the first non-ionic contrast agent, and Fulvio BraccoFondazione Bracco

1974 - new non-ionic contrast agent

For years, researchers sought alternative contrast agents for X-ray examinations.

Fulvio Bracco came up with the answer, inventing the first contrast agent with a high tolerability level.

B15000, the contrast agent that revolutionised diagnostic "imaging"Fondazione Bracco

The first high-efficiency contrast agent for magnetic resonanceFondazione Bracco

1985 - a new molecule

A new molecule was created, which allowed the identification of lesions to tissue not visible using other techniques.

Microbubbles for ultrasoundFondazione Bracco

1995 - microbubbles

An innovative contrast agent with very high tolerability for ultrasound scanning.

These gaseous 'microbubbles' substantially improved the quality of ultrasound scanning, allowing optimum visualisation of cardiac structures and blood vessels.

PET/CT: the first hybrid imaging technologyFondazione Bracco

2001 - PET/CT

The first hybrid imaging technique combined the capability of CT (computed tomography) of visualizing the interior of the human body and pinpointing a possible lesion with efficiency of PET (positron emission tomography) in evaluating the metabolic process of the lesion.

Functional and metabolic molecular imagingFondazione Bracco

2015 - functional and metabolic molecular imaging

Diagnostic imaging lets us see and work with infinitely small molecules, thanks to new machines and contrast agents that can be called 'intelligent probes' - microbubbles and fluorescent molecules.

The future: diagnostics and therapy come togetherFondazione Bracco

2020 - diagnostics and therapy unite

Microbubbles, an intelligent system that helps us 'see' beneath the surface, will soon become vehicles to dispatch drugs to precise locations in the body.

Seeing the lesion will be the beginning of the cure.

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.

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 to the institutions, museums and authorities that granted access to the resources and archives.
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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