It may seem like every cranny in the body can be imaged today, but some mysteries remain. And there's room for improvement in existing technologies, as anyone who has had a mammogram or a colonoscopy can attest. The next 30 years are likely to see huge advances in our ability to image not only the things in the body, but also what they can do.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging is already pointing the way by mapping brain activity. Researchers at Harvard University have developed a way to image the movement of air in the lungs with a small MRI machine by having patients breathe in a helium isotope.
A group at Cornell University has imaged the glowing circulatory system of a mouse injected with quantum dots—tiny fluorescent particles that can attach to specific organic molecules. While current quantum dots are made of heavy metals and raise concerns about toxicity, researchers at Clemson University recently developed carbon-based quantum dots that may prove to be safer for use in the body.
In ultrasound, a new technique called high-resolution ultrasonic transmission tomography will image soft tissues in 3-D with sharper resolution than regular ultrasound or MRI by using sound waves.