Senior Scientist at DTU Space, Irfan Kuvvetli, is in charge of DTU’s work on the cancer detector system. Here a part of the system is being tested in a DTU Space lab. (Photo: DTU Space/M.G. Andersen)

DTU Space to develop cancer scanner with English company

Friday 29 Mar 19

Contact

Irfan Kuvvetli
Senior Scientist
DTU Space
+45 45 25 97 20

Contact

Carl Budtz-Jørgensen
Senior Scientist Emeritus
DTU Space
+45 45 25 97 26

Cooperation on innovation

The cancer detection project is conducted in close cooperation between the Detector Group at DTU Space in Denmark and the English company Kromek Group plc that develop and manufacture specialized equipment for hospitals.

 

Senior Scientist Irfan Kuvvetli is the leader of the Space Detector Group.  In addition Senior Scientist Emeritus Carl Budtz-Jørgensen and Senior Engineer Denis Tcherniak are part of the group.

DTU Space and UK company Kromek have started a collaboration to develop a new advanced scanner that have a huge potential for improving breast cancer diagnosis.

Advanced technology developed for space science often has big potential in other areas.

A new industrial research and development project cooperation between DTU Space and the UK company Kromek Group plc is a good example of that. They are to develop a new type of breast cancer scanner for women.

DTU Space – Denmark’s National Space Institute - are contributing with advanced and very accurate detector technology called 3D CZT that has been developed for high energy space exploration. This technology can detect and characterize high-energy photons from gamma rays in space with high precision.

But the very same technology also find use in medical applications. Here, it can potentially improve the results when scanning women for breast cancer tumors in comparison to current methods based on X-rays.

”We are happy to contribute to something as important as diagnosing and fighting cancer,” said Senior Scientist at DTU Space Irfan Kuvvetli, who is in charge of DTU’s work on the detector system.

”This cooperation with the industry shows the importance of constantly trying to develop new research based technologies and to be open to its potential applications in areas other than space science.”

Small and complicated tumor can be detected

DTU Space and Kromek - a worldwide supplier of detection technology, focusing on among other things, medical imaging systems – has been awarded DKR 10 million over two years for the project from the European research and development program Eurostars.

"It is exciting that space science technology can be used in the medical field"
Irfan Kuvvetli, Senior Scientist at DTU Space

The scanner to be developed is called a 3D Molecular Breast Imager (3D MBI). The goal of the project is to enable more precise and certain diagnosis of breast cancer tumors than is possible with the X-ray technology being used today.

It will for example be possible to identify small tumors and their position much more accurately than today. Detection will also be more accurate when examining women with high breast tissue density. For those persons, a typical X-ray examination can often not distinguish between what is dense tissue and an actual tumor.

This uncertainty, that might cost lives if a tumor is not revealed in time, can be minimized with the new scanning and detector technology now being developed.

Based on a prototype ready for space science 

DTU Space has already developed prototype photon detectors for space science with support from the European Space Agency, ESA. These detectors include signal processing electronics and specialized algorithms for creating very accurate images based on the gathered photon data.

The new research and development project is based on this technology. And it looks so promising that it caught the interest of Kromek who contacted DTU since the same principles can be used for their breast cancer imaging and detecting systems.

”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,” said Irfan Kuvvetli.

From exploring space to detecting cancer

The detector technology that DTU Space is contributing with to the 3D MBI scanner project is in principle developed for exploring high energetic X-ray and gamma rays in the form of photons from events in space with very high precision. When using this technology for breast cancer detection, it is likewise about registering photons with high accuracy and using this information to create images. In this case of potential tumors. 

 

In principle, the 3D MBI scanner works this way: a short lived, radioactive tracer substance is injected into the bloodstream of the person to be examined. The tracer will then concentrate in a breast tumor and emit high-energy gamma rays (photons) from there. A detector placed around the breast registers the photons. From the derived data a very accurate image of the tumor is created. Since gamma photons are not being absorbed when they pass through the breast tissue (which is the case with X-ray based technology being used today) the resulting images will be of high quality even for women with high breast tissue density.

 

DTU Space has two patents on this technology. DTU has, among other things, demonstrated that the detector – called 3D CZT (CdZnTe) – has a position resolution of 0.5 mm in all 3 dimensions (x, y, z).

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