Medical Imaging: from greyscale to reality

Sharon Conway, Cathal Breen, Helen Byrne

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


In1895 Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen took the first x-ray photographic image on film by making an exposure of his wife’s hand. This heralded the advent of the greyscale medical image and direct or indirect x-ray exposure of film remained the main source of the medical image for the next fifty years. Even with development of computers and the digital x-ray image, greyscale has remained the mainstay of medical images. However, this new technology, and development of other imaging modalities such as ultrasound, computed tomography, radionuclide imaging and magnetic resonance imaging, has permitted the introduction of colour to aid detection and diagnosis of pathology. Two areas where medical imaging is making a successful transition into utilisation of colour are cardiology and intestinal imaging. Cardiology employs ultrasound as an imaging modality to visualise anatomy of the beating human heart. These real-time images are displayed originally in greyscale and adequately permit diagnosis related to cardiac contractile function. Doppler colour flow ultrasound imaging is a method for noninvasively imaging blood flow through the heart by displaying “flow data” on the two-dimensional echocardiographic image. The principles of Doppler colour flow imaging involve the colours red and blue representing direction of blood through a heart valve; the various hues from dull to bright represent the differing velocities of blood flow. When turbulence is present a mosaic of many colours results indicating potential valvular abnormality. A two-dimensional display of flow is, therefore, produced with ready identification of size, direction, and velocity. To inexperienced Doppler users, the colour flow display makes the Doppler data more readily understandable.For decades the Double Contrast Barium Enema (DCBE) examination, a form of greyscale fluoroscopic imaging, has served the specialist field of gastroenterology well in detecting intestinal pathology. Alternatively Conventional Colonoscopy, used as an adjunct to the DCBE, images the large intestine in real time and is viewed on a colour TV monitor. Both of these procedures are considered to be relatively invasive for the patient.In 1994 Computed Tomography Colonography was introduced, using computers to generate three-dimensional, surface rendered coloured images of the large bowel. With this detailed image and “fly through” navigation technology, it is possible to simulate travelling down the bowel in real time. This relatively quick and minimally invasive imaging procedure produces realistic images similar to those of Conventional Colonoscopy.Medical images are gradually incorporating colour and with three-dimensional reconstructions and advancing software the result is more and more realistic life-like images. There are challenges to be addressed regarding standardisation of utilisation of colour however with a trend towards realism it could be argued that this should cease to be an issue. It remains for consideration that many pathologies look similar in real life yet they can be differentiated by appropriate medical imaging. Therefore colour to aid detection and diagnosis of pathology remains an area for exploration.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
PublisherSharon Conway
Number of pages38
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 21 Oct 2008
EventCREATE Conference - Re-envisioning the learning environment: challenges and opportunities - Belfast Campus, University of Ulster
Duration: 21 Oct 2008 → …


ConferenceCREATE Conference - Re-envisioning the learning environment: challenges and opportunities
Period21/10/08 → …


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