UK company collaborates on breast cancer detection technology

Kromek and Danish space agency DTU Space develop breast cancer imaging device based on technology from high-energy astronomy

County Durham-based radiation detection specialist Kromek is contributing its cadmium zinc telluride (CZT) detection technology to the project, which aims to develop a 3D molecular breast imager (3D MBI) scanner capable of more precise and certain diagnosis of small breast cancer tumours than is possible today. Kromek is one of only four companies in the world to make CZT, a room-temperature semiconductor that directly converts x-ray or gamma ray photons into charge carriers inside the crystal which is already used in medical devices and for studying high-energy phenomena in space.

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Irfan Kuvvetli working on the x-ray detector incorporating Kromek’s CZT crystals. Image: DTU Space

The 3D MBI project is funded via a £321,000 grant to Kromek under the European scheme Eurostars through Innovate UK, and involves a DTU Space research team at the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen. Lasting two years, the main focus of the project is making the electronics used around CZT detectors smaller, lighter and more power efficient, which will have also have implications for space applications of technology. The project grew out of a previous collaboration between the two organisations to create detectors for radio astronomy to detect gamma rays in space.

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Kromek produces x- and gamma-ray detectors based on CZT crystals in a variety of sizes

Currently, breast cancer imaging uses x-ray technology. However, this often cannot accurately distinguish between tumours and dense breast tissue, leading to delays in diagnosis when tumours are small which can delay the start of treatment. CZT crystals are far more efficient at protecting x-rays than current technology.

“Kromek already has medical imaging products, for example, we sell many surgical gamma-probes every year to hospitals around the world, and we provide turn-key gamma SPECT camera solutions to OEM medical imaging manufacturers,” said Kromek CEO, Dr Arnab Basu. “We are also involved in a project to transform breast imaging techniques using new developments in our CZT-based SPECT detector technology to reduce the required dose of radiation in molecular breast imaging. Our aim in both these projects is to achieve better outcomes for patients and lower costs for hospitals.”

”We are happy to contribute to something as important as diagnosing and fighting cancer,” added yet senior scientist at DTU Space Irfan Kuvvetli, who is in charge of DTU’s work on the detector system. ”It is exciting that space science technology can be used in the medical field. And through collaboration with the industry we also look forward to being able to supply equipment based on the technology for a future high-energy mission in space.”