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A dinner between friends was the starting point for the creation of Radius Diagnostics, a new company that uses technology straight from the the European space programme to design X-ray machines the size of laptops.
The lightweight systems could easily be taken to patients in hospitals, care homes and at the site of accidents.
Co-founders of Radius, Mark Evans, Chris Behrenbuch (also co-founders of medical imaging firm Mirada Solutions), and Ben Hollister, a former army officer awarded a Military Cross for service in Iraq, chatted about how useful a portable X-ray system would be out in the field.
Shortly afterwards, a meeting with Dr Gil Travish, a research scientist working on beam and radiation technologies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and now the company’s chief scientific officer, provided the opportunity to take the idea further.
Medical imaging for X-rays uses traditional vacuum tube-based technology and the current ‘portable’ X-ray machines weigh 250kg or more and can take considerable time for hospital staff to position.
Based on groundbreaking patented technology licensed from UCLA, Radius is developing a lightweight, flat-panel X-ray source with the potential to enable new X-ray applications while lowering the cost.
Incorporating technology developed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) for European Space Agency (ESA) satellites, Radius has been working with the California Nanosystems Institute to commercialise an innovative ‘X-ray source on a chip’, known as MAX (Microemitter Array X-ray), developed at UCLA.
A scanner based on MAX technology will be 20 times lighter than existing portable X-ray systems, allowing it to be more easily operated at the bedside or accident site and avoiding the need to move patients to X-ray suites. A truly portable MAX-based system could weigh less than 10kg.
Chief executive Mark Evans said: “MAX will transform many applications of X-rays and we are thrilled that one of its first applications, allowing portable X-ray systems to travel to the patient, will improve comfort, prevent unnecessary hospital admissions, and save lives.
“The transformation that MAX will achieve is as great as the shift from old-style TVs to flat screens.
“But it will be the reduction in cost and opportunity for miniaturisation that will create a revolution as there are numerous applications in healthcare, security and industry.”
It is estimated production costs will be less than half that of current systems, making widespread use affordable, so a doctor’s surgery might have its own X-ray system. There are also safety benefits. MAX sources are pixelated in the same way as an LCD computer screen, so the physician can control the emission of X-rays and reduce the associated radiation.
Radius secured grant funding from the Technology Strategy Board and the ESA to support the early design and development stage.
Having proven the technology in the lab, the company is gearing up to develop a production-ready model of the new system that could be deployed in clinical, industrial and security settings within three years.
Radius has signed a collaboration agreement with a major medical equipment manufacturer and is preparing to pitch to business angel investors of Oxford Investment Opportunity Network for equity investment. The new funding is needed to enable the company to produce a working protoype measuring 10cm by 10cm.
Radius also recently scooped the UK Start up Award at the Global Security Challenge, was one of the winners of the ESA Investment Forum, and has moved into the ESA’s business incubation centre at Harwell.
Paul Vernon, STFC’s head of new business, said: “The space sector can bring huge social and economic benefits to the UK economy.
“Radius is already on its way to creating a sustainable, profitable business through technology that could make the world of difference to the elderly and seriously ill, to name just one application.”
The aim is for this new, lightweight, X-ray technology to be used by paramedics at patients’ own homes and by the armed forces in the field.
Mr Evans added: “We think our ultimate customers are likely to be the hospitals on a global basis, particularly the United States, the largest single market for healthcare imaging.
“Ultimately, we believe trauma patients may be imaged ahead of transportation, allowing the images to be read at the receiving hospital while the patient is still in transit, or before they are moved if a spinal injury is suspected.
“This could save vital time in treating critical injuries and ensure a far better outcome for thousands of people.” * This page is co-ordinated by Oxford Innovation, www.oxin.co.uk