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Full-Body Airport Scanners Downsizing For Doctors/Dentists 221

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the all-the-better-to-see-your-cavities-with dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Cheap handheld terahertz scanners that do the same thing as those big bulky full-body scanners at the airport could be in your doctor's and dentist's office soon. The Semiconductor Research Corp. has successfully sponsored chip maker Texas Instruments in making cheap CMOS chips that do the same thing as those refrigerator sized full-body scanners at the airport. The resulting handheld versions can be tuned to look inside your teeth in the dentist chair and under you skin at the doctor's office. The best part is that terahertz rays are completely safe, unlike the X-rays used today by dentists and doctors which can cause cancer. Count me in!"
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Full-Body Airport Scanners Downsizing For Doctors/Dentists

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  • "completely safe" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hanzie (16075) * on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:17PM (#40523457)

    I'll wait to believe terahertz radiation is "completely safe" for a little while, yet.

    • by Isaac-1 (233099) on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:26PM (#40523503)

      Safe means we don't know what bad thing it does yet.

      • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:37PM (#40523559)

        With the sort of logic that is popular these days we would have rejected fire as unsafe (radiation from a fire is higher frequency than this THz - i.e. very far infrared) and still be eating our food raw in unheated caves.

        There is no such thing as "completely safe". The idea is preposterous. It is even more preposterous that we can prove something to be completely safe. Every heartbeat or breath you take is at great risk.

        It's all about rational risk assessment and testing. Given the fundamentals here there is no reason to be concerned about the safety of terahertz radiation. It is certainly far safer than the alternatives which have large known risks.

        • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:59PM (#40523651)
          The problem isn't that it involves risk, it is that things that are "completely safe" eventually get abused to the point that they are no longer safe. X-Rays can cause cancer, but we know that x-rays cause cancer and therefore doctors/dentists are more reluctant to use them. Back when X-rays were considered 100% safe, we used them to see how well shoes fit! And other novelties.

          Is terahertz radiation safer than x-rays? Quite possibly. If we use terahertz radiation to excess will it be safer than x-rays? Quite possibly not.
          • Re:"completely safe" (Score:5, Interesting)

            by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Monday July 02, 2012 @11:17PM (#40523709)

            There was never a time when X-Rays were considered completely safe. Roentgen and Thompson both issued warnings regarding overexposure. Within a year of their discovery reports of injuries started appearing.

            http://goatrevolution.com/blog2/2006/11/10/radiation-part-cinque-further-uses-and-discoveries-of-x-ray-radiation/ [goatrevolution.com]

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Edison seemed to think it was perfectly safe and into the '50s stores were using the fluoroscope to make sure that shoes were properly fitting.

              You can always find somebody that thinks something is dangerous from the start, the questions really are whether they are credible and how seriously they're being taken.

              • Are you saying Roentgen isn't credible? In most places those things are still called Roentgen rays.

                The guy was only the first Noble laureate in Physics.

                Man that has to be one of the biggest FRSTS.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 02, 2012 @11:31PM (#40523765)

            No doctor or dentist I've ever been to was ever 'reluctant' to call for an x-ray. As long as you're insured, it's free money for them to call for an x-ray, whether you need it or not. Last time I went in for neck pain, the doctor actually told me that whatever was causing my pain would most likely only show up on an MRI (as it was most likely due to tissue, not bone, issues), but he wanted to take an x-ray "just to see", and that he'd call for an MRI only if I still had pain a week or two later.

            As long as every doctor/dentist has an x-ray machine in-house that they can charge your insurance company for, whether it's really needed or not, they'll use it. If we can replace x-ray with some other most likely less-harmful tech, I'm in.

            • by Phroggy (441) <slashdot3 AT phroggy DOT com> on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:34AM (#40524059) Homepage

              When the dentist takes x-rays, they first cover me with a lead blanket from neck to knee and then they leave the room while the pictures are being taken. That's because we know that x-rays are dangerous, and we understand how they're dangerous and what steps should be taken to minimize the risk while still taking advantage of the technology.

              If it's "perfectly safe", no such precautions will be taken. Decades from now, we'll know whether they should have been.

            • Re:"completely safe" (Score:5, Informative)

              by Warma (1220342) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @03:26AM (#40524753)

              You are not taking into account, that doctors are wary of using MRI devices for scheduling and expense reasons. An X-ray image from a leased dental device is almost free (less than a hundred euros for private institutions here) and takes mere minutes, while an MRI scan costs thousands of euros and may take hours.

              Also, since MRI is more useful in a wider variety of situations, someone else probably needs it more or needs it sooner - you might end up having a huge waiting time to get yourself scanned. It is prudent to take the x-ray, because if the doctor can see the ailment there, the MRI scan may not be needed at all. He will also send you out, because if the pain disappears in a couple of weeks, the MRI won't be necessary. Money, time, work, and possibly lives, might be spared.

              If you are worried about the risks of a single x-ray, I assure you that they are beyond neglible - especially if you compare that risk with the possible wasted utility of an MRI device.

              • by Hatta (162192)

                If you are worried about the risks of a single x-ray, I assure you that they are beyond neglible - especially if you compare that risk with the possible wasted utility of an MRI device.

                The risk of a single x-ray, multiplied by millions of people is not negligible. And the wasted utility of an MRI device wouldn't be a problem if we built more MRIs to offset the X-rays we should be deprecating.

          • Re:"completely safe" (Score:5, Informative)

            by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:10AM (#40523935) Homepage Journal
            FWIW, the available research [europa.eu] is pretty clear [arxiv.org] that terahertz radiation poses little or no threat to the body under biological conditions. There's lingering concern that it may have a small ability to affect lipid bilayer permeability (which could imbalance how cells pass messages, receive nutrients, and eliminate waste), but over all, a THz exposure is a lot like being bombarded with visible or infrared light: it will warm you up if left on for too long, but it's not really dangerous on its own. The radiation is too high-frequency to excite any of the electrons orbiting the atoms in the human body (which is how UV causes damage), and much, much too low-energy to knock an electron onto a different atom (which is how X-rays and gamma radiation cause damage.) Any effects it does have must be extremely subtle—and the body is very good at handling subtle problems, since we replace almost every cell every ten years on average.
            • Incorrect (Score:5, Interesting)

              by aepervius (535155) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @04:02AM (#40524883)
              "The radiation is too high-frequency to excite any of the electrons orbiting the atoms in the human body (which is how UV causes damage)"

              You meant too LOW frequency , as terahertz is about order of magnitude of micrometer of wavelength : it is in the infrared part of the spectra (far or near depending on how many THz we are speaking of). In fact frequency is going from very low (VHF->FIF->NIF->Visible) to very high (Blue->UV->X->Gamma). Higher frequency=High energy is bad as it can easily knock electron off orbits. Low Frequency=Low Energy less dangerous, to even inactive on our body. Which is the invert with wavelength (short wave =very dangerous , very long wave think radio BHV etc harmless). Then there is also the question of quantity, but as a rule of thumb it is enough.
              • Re:Incorrect (Score:4, Informative)

                by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @04:29AM (#40524989) Homepage Journal
                Crap; sorry. You got me. I would've caught that if I'd read it more carefully. You deserve some mod points for that.
            • Unfortunately, that misses a point:

              The individual photons of terahertz radiation are at far too low an energy to ionize an atom or molecule or otherwise substantially affect a molecular bond, most foldings, and other molecular behavior. (That's a vast improvement on x-rays, where each photon has enough energy to ionize anything it interacts with, demolishing molecular bonds and spraying reactive species throughout highly-organized structures.)

              But terahertz radiation is is COHERENT. That means billions of

        • Mostly Harmless (Score:4, Insightful)

          by xQx (5744) on Monday July 02, 2012 @11:14PM (#40523695)
          I agree, but we shouldn't use the name "completely safe" until it's tested and proven to be safe.

          Why don't we just all agree to call all these technologies "Mostly Harmless" until proven otherwise.

          Then there will be no confusion.

          And if there is confusion, the idiots who are confused need to learn to read, then read a good book. A good book written by Douglas Adams. Then they will understand. They will understand in exactly the same way that bricks don't.
        • by Shavano (2541114)
          Look, you want to cook your cojones with terahertz scanners, go right ahead. But don't try to persuade me that it's "completely safe" or even safer than competing technologies like MRI and ultrasound without a large body of evidence.
        • Given the fundamentals here there is no reason to be concerned about the safety of terahertz radiation. It is certainly far safer than the alternatives which have large known risks.

          Unless you have an insulin pump.

          http://www.inquisitr.com/233195/tsa-breaks-teens-insulin-pump-during-forced-full-body-scanner-examination/ [inquisitr.com]

          Then it's pretty damn dangerous, particularly if it happens to be on when the scanner kills the control circuitry for the pump.

        • by mr1911 (1942298)

          Given the fundamentals here there is no reason to be concerned about the safety of terahertz radiation. It is certainly far safer than the alternatives which have large known risks.

          Not quite. Terahertz radiation is by no means "certainly far safer" than choosing not to be irradiated by any method.

      • This could not get upmodded enough if we stood atop buildings with megaphones screaming it.
      • Lol, super-tumors.

    • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:53PM (#40523625)
      It's pretty safe and has been tested over a very long time period. They've even given certain THz frequencies their own names.
      440THz is sometimes called "red"
      560THz is sometimes called "green"
      640THz is sometimes called "blue"
      • by MightyYar (622222)

        I was with you up to green, but blue is a menace! It's a blue menace!

      • by anon208 (2410460)
        I was with you up to green, but red is a menace! It's a RED menace.
      • by Nkwe (604125) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:17AM (#40523963)

        It's pretty safe and has been tested over a very long time period. They've even given certain THz frequencies their own names.
        440THz is sometimes called "red"
        560THz is sometimes called "green"
        640THz is sometimes called "blue"

        And they stopped there because 640 THz should be enough for everybody.

        • by Trogre (513942)

          Well, until the recommended system requirements for Windows 8 are published anyway.

      • by Svartormr (692822)
        I was with you up to red, but before you get to green there's 540THz, sometimes called "yellow", but yellow is a threat! It's a YELLOW peril!
      • by gr8_phk (621180)
        And 0.000101.1THz is WRIF in Detroit. Making jokes about visible light is misleading. What do we call 1-50THz?
    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      It means don't eliminate my chance to make a buttload of money until you have proof that I'm killing people. After all money is more important than any other consideration.

    • The chip that the original article mentions has a PLL and an integrated transmitting antenna and produces 2 mW. That IS safe, but not useful for doctor's office scanners. To be useful for scanners, they're going to have to amp it up by at least 20 dB (probably a lot more) and irradiate the part of you they want to examine. And they'll have to add an array of terahertz receivers tuned to the emitter's frequency if they want to do imaging, and the waveform captured by all those receivers is going to have
  • Abolish the TSA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheGoodNamesWereGone (1844118) on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:21PM (#40523475)
    Scanners belong in doctors' offices, not airports.
    • by MightyYar (622222)

      Throw that on a poster and it'll be almost as worthless as those other platitudes: "Don't work harder, work smarter!"

    • by rbrausse (1319883)

      Scanners belong in doctors' offices, not airports.

      like Dr. Emma Garrison-Alexander [tsa.gov]?

      [as a side note: in Germany, a Dr. in front of the name is an important status symbol, it is really unlikely to see a governing body of any bigger company/state agency/whatever with only one doctorate. Interesting, I saw your doctor comment and automagically expected lot's of Dr.'s, my German POV was wrong...]

    • by ignavus (213578)

      Scanners belong in doctors' offices, not airports.

      See, the TSA would be much more popular if they just advertised it as a free diagnostic scan and gave a certificate of health - or a diagnosis afterwards.

      "Sir, you're carrying a bomb and a duodenal ulcer. Please step over here so we can disarm the bomb and give you emergency radiotherapy for the cancer."

  • Didn't these used to say that X-rays were safe? Anyway, in IMHO the best option is to not to scan at all. Just let everyone board the plane and be on their way -or- we'll start scanning people boarding buses next.
    • Just let everyone board the plane and be on their way -or- we'll start scanning people boarding buses next.

      Yeah, the former option is never going to happen. No authorities ever give up powers like that without a very good fight, and usually expand them bit by bit.

    • Didn't these used to say that X-rays were safe?

      No.

      As another poster has already mentioned: The discoverers of X-rays warned from the beginning that there might be harm, and reports of damage from exposure were in the literature within the first couple years.

      (Now some people may have said, somewhere along the way, that some level of X-rays is safe. Manufacturers and users of X-ray equipment, for example. B-) )

  • hell yeah! (Score:5, Funny)

    by sribe (304414) on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:25PM (#40523501)

    If I were a dentist, I'd certainly want to know if you're packing heat before I start subjecting you to excruciating pain ;-)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      If your dentist is subjecting you to excruciating pain, I suggest you find a different dentist. Most dental procedures are completely pain-free these days. Some have residual soreness once the shot wears off; that's what they make Vicoden for.
  • Completely Safe... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:30PM (#40523515)
    As certified by the $10/hr TSA agent with barely a high school education.
    • by artor3 (1344997)

      Do you really think that the TSA wage-slaves are designing multi-million dollar scanners in between confiscating toothpaste and groping tourists? You do know that they have actual scientists and engineers and doctors inventing this stuff... right? I'll trust their judgement over that of a random poster in an internet forum.

      • A random poster in an internet forum frequented by scientists and engineers.

        But I have a better idea. Let's grab one of the more expendable ones from the TSA, and stick 'em inside the scanner, fully powered up and constantly scanning, for a month. Unless we somehow manage to pick someone with the golden immune system of the gods, we'll know, at the end of the month, whether there is anything dangerous about these scanners. Well, immediately dangerous. If that person shows multiple metastasized tumors throug

    • Are you worried by 100 THz radiation? Because that is commonly called "light". The visible spectrum is from about 400-790 THz.

      Radiation is only ionizing, and thus cancer causing, when it is high frequency. X-rays (already in use in medicine if you didn't notice) are much higher frequency, they are past visible light, past UV.

      • Well then, it's perfectly harmless. So you shouldn't mind spending some time in one. Perhaps even some prolonged time. Perhaps you wouldn't mind some parts from the machine being quietly installed into the walls of your domicile.

        Feel free to leave your address. And we apologize in advance for the (much) higher power bill.

  • by hedgemage (934558) on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:32PM (#40523531)
    I don't want these fancy new scanners in my dentist's office! What's wrong with having the hygenist run me through the metal detector prior to performing an enhanced patdown?
  • DNA resonance (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:41PM (#40523577)

    THz radiation may cause DNA resonance:

    http://science.slashdot.org/story/09/10/30/1216230/how-terahertz-waves-tear-apart-dna

    • Re:DNA resonance (Score:4, Informative)

      by serent (911376) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @12:40AM (#40524093)
      In 2011, a further study was done that indicated that under normal circumstances, this theoretical danger shouldn't be an issue, but recommended rigorous experimentation to confirm this:

      Modelling DNA Response to THz Radiation
      http://arxiv.org/abs/1012.4153 [arxiv.org]

      The long and short of it is, it's probably ok but if we're going to start putting them in cell phones, further studying should be done.
      • How about if we stick someone in a machine, with it locked in full-power constant scanning mode, for a month?

  • Mock-up (Score:4, Funny)

    by Monkier (607445) * on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:46PM (#40523599)

    Here's a quick mock-up of how it will look: http://i.imgur.com/2aA3Z.jpg [imgur.com]

  • Is it safe? (Score:5, Funny)

    by careysb (566113) on Monday July 02, 2012 @10:56PM (#40523641)
    ZAPHOD: It’s a carbon copy of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal - or I’m a Vogon’s Grandmother! ARTHUR: The Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal! Is it safe? [Sound of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal salivating] FORD: Oh Yes! It’s perfectly safe - it’s just us who are in trouble.
  • Imagine if EMTs could get a decent body scan before you've even arrived at the hospital. Doctors could receive a patient having already spent a few minutes going over the scans prior to their arrival.

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      Yeah. They'd be all like "Yep! That's a table lamp all right! How did he get it in THERE?"
  • I've been waiting a long time for the 'X-Ray' glasses in the back of Boy's Life to actually work. No matter how many pair I bought, or how hard I squinted, they never did the job.

  • Medical Utility? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by izomiac (815208) on Monday July 02, 2012 @11:50PM (#40523853) Homepage
    I'm a little curious about the medical uses for the technology. Terahertz EM radiation should have similar wavelengths to Ultrasound, which only penetrates a few inches and lacks resolution. It's very useful [medison.ru], don't get me wrong, but no replacement for X-rays [nrmedical.net], CT [blogspot.com], or MRI [sciencephoto.com] (click for images of kidney stones using each modality). Plus, ultrasound is becoming even less reliable due to the obesity epidemic, as it can't penetrate a foot of fat very well. Per Wikipedia THz can penetrate low-water tissue several millimeters, which is similar to visible light seen by the unaided eye.

    Dermatologists and Dentists may find it useful, but I'm having trouble seeing the application into other medical fields. (Someone can chime in if there's something, I haven't been keeping up on it.) IMHO, it's premature to consider installing these in the clinic. Before that happens there needs to be some unique and significant benefit, which outweighs the risks, and is cost effective. Until then, keep it in the research labs where portability and miniaturization is less of an issue. We don't need technology in the clinic for technology's sake, it just drives up costs and increases wait times.
    • Yeah, I'm missing something (or the articles are off base). Terahertz EM should have LESS penetration than ultrasound. Maybe looking at the surface of teeth would be useful, looking at everyone's subcutaneous fat, not so much.

      Anyone of the Physics persuasion care to enlighten us (so to speak)?

    • Terahertz EM radiation should have similar wavelengths to Ultrasound, which only penetrates a few inches and lacks resolution.

      Actually, resolution using synthetic aperture techniques is very high. In principle (if I understand this correctly) it is an analytical solution and limited only by things like the sampling resolution, timing accuracy, and uncertainty principle, while practical equipment can resolve to far less than a wavelength.

      It's INcoherent illumination that is suffers mightily from diffraction

  • However completely unlike the airport scanners these devices will need to clear FDA and FCC regulations and inspection/testing. The people who operate them will have to take classes and be certified and licensed to operate the device. The devices themselves will be licensed and inspected on a regular basis by the state boards of health.

    None of this is seems true for the airport systems.

  • Hand-held CT scanner (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @02:03AM (#40524505) Homepage

    The next step, once there's terahertz scanning capability in a hand-held device, is to add an accurate short-range location system to the device. Then it becomes possible to do most of the job of a CT scanner, building up a 3D image, with a hand-held device and a lot of compute power. This will be a big win for medicine.

    It might be sufficient to put a 6-axis IMU chip in the device and use SLAM to correct for cumulative error. Then you could reference to the body being scanned, not the world coordinate system, and get clean scans even if the patient moves a little.

    A useful marketing strategy would be to deploy this first for veterinarians. This avoids many of the regulatory issues.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @03:50AM (#40524833)
    There is very good evidence that terahertz waves are anything but safe!

    Whereas X-rays pass through most body parts, leading to a very low rate of absorption that is also spread throughout most of the body, terahertz waves are the opposite: a minority of the radiation is reflected back to the scanner, but the majority is completely absorbed by the tissue at the depth of penetration. And because that depth is pretty specific, what you have is a very thin layer of tissue that is completely absorbing a great deal of energy from the radiation.

    If you really think about that, you will change your mind about any "completely safe" claims. We need tests and more tests and double-blind tests, before it can be declared "safe", and even then we would need to wait for a long time to rule out any possible long-term effects.
    • You're missing the really big difference: X-rays are ionizing, terahertz radiation is not. There's a very simple solution to that problem: don't use too much power. Anyone will feel major discomfort before any sort of damage happens.

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @09:20AM (#40526627)

    ...what is free at the airport will soon cost $2,000 at your doctor's office.

  • A big chunk of them are xray scanners.
    It isn't the scanner working under normal conditions that would worry me so much.
    But if it malfunctions and spews out lots of radiation all over the airport, that might worry me.
    I still won't go through them or have my kids go through them.

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