Space technology delivers quantum leap in hospital X-rays

Close up of array of MAX emitters
(Credit: Radius Diagnostics)

Revolutionary technology, originally developed for use on space satellites, is being used to design X-ray machines, no bigger than a laptop, that can travel quickly and easily to patients in hospitals, care homes and accident sites. Radius Diagnostics Ltd (link opens in a new window)(‘Radius’) is poised to bring this technology one step closer, as it becomes the latest tenant of the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC Harwell).

Incorporating cutting-edge technology originally developed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) for ESA satellites, Radius has been working with the California nanoSystems Institute (link opens in a new window)(CnSI) to commercialise an innovative ‘X-ray source on a chip’, known as MAX (Microemitter Array X-ray), originally developed at UCLA.

A scanner based on MAX technology will be 20 times lighter than any existing portable X-ray system, allowing it to be more easily operated at the bedside or accident site, and avoiding causing further discomfort to patients by moving them to X-ray suites. A truly portable MAX based system weighing less than 10kg, will save hospital staff valuable time as current moveable X-ray machines, weighing 250kg or more, can take considerable time to position and get ready. 

Mark Evans, CEO and co-founder of Radius Diagnostics, said “MAX will transform many applications of X-rays and we are thrilled that one of its first applications, allowing truly portable X-ray systems to travel to the patient, will improve patient 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 today’s flat screens.  However, it will be the reduction in cost and the opportunity for miniaturisation that will create a revolution.  Many of the applications in healthcare, security and industry that MAX will make possible have not even been envisioned yet.”

Production costs will be less than half the cost of any current equivalent, making widespread use affordable; a doctor’s surgery might even have its own X-ray system. Also, MAX sources are pixelated in the same way as an LCD computer screen, allowing the physician to selectively control the emission of X-rays and enable the patient’s radiation burden to be reduced.

Radius is now set to take the development and commercialisation of this technology one step further as it becomes the newest tenant at the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC Harwell).  The BIC provides the ideal environment for pioneering, innovative companies like Radius to translate space technologies and applications into viable businesses in non-space industries.

As a tenant at the ESA BIC, Radius Diagnostics will benefit from an impressive support package, which includes more than £40,000 towards further technology development; easy access to both STFC and ESA technical expertise, and a dedicated business champion from STFC to help with business planning and guidance. Radius is now gearing up to develop a production-ready model of the new system, having proven the technology in the lab, which could be deployed in clinical, industrial and security settings within three years.

Paul Vernon, Head of New Business at STFC, said: “The space sector can bring huge social and economic benefits to the UK economy. By working with both STFC and ESA scientists at the ESA Business  Incubation Centre, Radius Diagnostics 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.”

Ultimately this new, lightweight, X-ray technology could be used by paramedics at patients’ own homes, and even by the armed forces in the field. The Radius team sees a world where patients will be imaged ahead of transportation, allowing the images to be read immediately at the receiving hospital while the patient is in transit, or before even being moved if a spinal injury is suspected, saving vital time in treating critical injuries.


Notes for editors

The development of the MAX based source is the result of a major effort between STFC’s Micro and Nanotechnology Centre and the CnSI. It is also using state of the art 3D imaging at the University of Manchester to develop key optical components. Additionally, Radius is leveraging resources from Henry Moseley X-ray Imaging Facility at Manchester University and the X-ray Imaging Research Facilities at Nottingham Trent University.

Development of the new source was aided by a £100,000 investment by the Technology Strategy Board and also by assistance from the South East England Development Agency.

Radius was recently announced UK start-up winner of the Global Security Challenge (‘GSC’).  Supported by US Government agency Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) and industry giant BAE Systems plc, and judged by the UK Ministry of Defence and the US Office of Naval Research, the GSC is designed to attract unique technologies with great disruptive potential.

Contacts

Images

Concept images are available on request.

Audio

MP3 file (2140 Kb) - STFC’s Lucy Stone spoke to Mark Evans, the CEO of Radius Diagnostics about the benefits of the new technology.
transcript (PDF - 29kB - link opens in a new window) of the MP3 file is available.

Further information

About STFC (link opens in a new window)


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