COUNTY Durham technology firm Kromek is working with an American university on a project that could improve detection of breast cancer.
The NETPark company has sealed a four-year contract with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which is funded via £2.5m from the US National Institute for Health.
While the fast-growing Kromek is best known for its work in airport security scanners, it recognises the medical market holds a lot of promise in future.
The contract is worth nearly £1m to Kromek, and puts it firmly in a US mammography market that is forecast to be worth £372m per annum by 2015.
Chief executive Arnab Basu said: “Traditionally our main thrust has been in radiation detection and we’re most well-known for our security product and developments within that market. However, we do have a very strong development activity and engagement with clients in the medical sector.
“The goal of the overall project is to develop a system for screening for breast cancer using 3D imaging technology, together with a new generation of detection technology. Our role is to provide the detection system for the University of Massachusetts who are putting together the imaging system. It’s a very exciting development.
“It’s becoming more of a necessity for women to undergo screening. There’s a real drive in the United States towards accuracy and pushing the detection rate higher.
“This project aims to create a better imaging capability through 3D imaging. Traditionally, radiography uses a flat 2D shadow grab.
“This programme will produce 3D images, but because of the system being developed, it’s going to give us a much better contrast in terms of the separation of tissue structure. It’s aimed at increasing the detection of cancer at an earlier stage.
“This is not blue sky research. This is very much product development, so we’ll expect to go into market with this development. This is really a natural follow-up and a validation of our overall strategy of looking into different markets, starting with security and moving on to industrial and medical imaging.”
Kromek’s win was aided by the work of its American subsidiary Nova, which it acquired over the summer.
The Californian company was already active in the mammography market.
Kromek spun out of Durham University in 2003, and moved into a new £10m headquarters at its home in Sedgefield’s NETPark earlier this year.
It recently won a £2.4m contract with the US government to provide equipment that detects emissions from nuclear material. It has also spent several years developing devices which can identify potentially explosive substances in liquids passing through airport security, and was given the green light to sell its scanners in airports across Europe.
Basu said: “The bottle scanner is the first screening system in the world to get approval using colour X-Ray. It’s a vindication of the fact that colour X-Ray will be the next generation of technology that will dominate the market in the next 10 years. It’s like the transition between black and white and colour TV.”