Bones from Field Museum’s T. rex come to UIC for a CT scan

The University of Illinois Hospital received a very special patient last week.

Several bones from the world-famous Tyrannosaurus rex, SUE — whose home is the Field Museum — arrived at the hospital’s Outpatient Care Clinic Feb. 19. The bones were destined for a CT scan that researchers hope will reveal the cause of some strange deformations that have remained a mystery for decades.

Rolf Reiter, a visiting scholar in bioengineering in the UIC College of Engineering, is leading the effort to scan the bones at UIC. Reiter was a medical student in Berlin, where he worked with researchers including Charlie Hamm, a radiologist there who will analyze the scan.

“When they told me they were interested in scanning SUE’s bones, I suggested that they consider doing it at UIC, and they took me up on the offer,” Reiter said. “We are doing the same type of scan on the bones that we’d do when we are looking for signs of cancer or other diseases in a patient. The scanner is clinical and we use it every day to image patients.”

The bones to be scanned include SUE’s right humerus, or upper arm bone, and the left fibula. The fibula is the long, skinny bone that runs alongside the shin bone, but SUE’s left fibula isn’t so skinny. Researchers believe that SUE’s leg got some sort of infection when the dinosaur was alive, and the bone became huge and misshapen. Meanwhile, SUE’s arm bone has several abnormalities indicating that one of the muscles — the triceps — was torn off the bone in life.

“The CT scans will let us look inside SUE’s bones and see details that could be clues as to what happened to them,” said Bill Simpson, head of the Field Museum’s geology collections, who will be supervising the removal of the bones. “SUE’s bones have been scanned before, but technology has improved, and we are hoping to gain new information.”

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sparmet@uic.edu