X Ray Film That Sheds Light On Baby Bones

Adult X-ray imaging systems don't do justice to young patients, whose body structures are smaller and softer. With better X-rays, doctors could detect much earlier such conditions in premature infants as respiratory distress syndrome, the inability of the lungs to transmit oxygen to the blood. To help radiologists take clear pictures of those tiny spines and lungs, Eastman Kodak Co. has invented a new film system called the InSight Pediatric Imaging System.

The key is using a layer of high-absorption phosphors that convert 80% of incoming X-rays to visible light, compared with 40% conversion for conventional X-ray film. With more light reaching the film, it becomes possible to use a low-speed, fine-grain film that provides high contrast between light and dark areas. For example, radiologists can detect the edge of an infant lung pulling away from the rib cage, a warning sign of lung collapse. Forensic radiologists are also using the system to detect the tiny fractures characteristic of "shaken baby syndrome," a symptom of child abuse. Dr. David Merten, the chief of pediatric radiology at the University of North Carolina Child Medical Evaluation Center, says Kodak's imaging system provides twice the detail without increasing the radiation dose. The system has been on the market for just two months and is now being used in 16 pediatric radiology departments.