Photo: DTU Space/M.G. Andersen

DTU develops breast cancer scanning equipment

Tuesday 02 Apr 19

Contact

Irfan Kuvvetli
Senior Scientist
DTU Space
+4545 25 97 20

Contact

Carl Budtz-Jørgensen
Senior Scientist Emeritus
DTU Space
+4545 25 97 26
DTU has entered into collaboration with the UK company Kromek aimed at developing a scanner that can improve breast cancer diagnostics.

Advanced technology developed for space research often has great potential in other fields. The new industrial research and development partnership between DTU Space and the UK company Kromek Group plc is a good example of this. Komek develops medical imaging equipment for use in hospitals, and the two partners are now working jointly to develop a completely new scanner type for screening of women for breast cancer.

DTU Space’s contribution to the scanner is an advanced and highly precise detector technology called 3D CZT, developed for space research. This technology can detect and characterize high-energy photons in the form of gamma radiation in space with pinpoint accuracy.

But the technology can also be applied in the field of medicine. Here it can be used to improve breast cancer scans in relation to conventional X-ray examinations.

“We’re pleased to be able to contribute to something as important as cancer diagnosis and the fight against cancer,” says Senior Researcher at DTU Space Irfan Kuvvetli, who is in charge of the work to develop the detector technology.

"It’s exciting that space technology can be used in the healthcare sector"
Irfan Kuvvetli, senior researcher at DTU Space

“The partnership with the industry shows the importance of our focus on constantly trying to develop new technology based on fundamental research, and that we are open to its potential applications in other fields than space research.”

Together with Kromek, DTU Space has received DKK 10 million for the project over two years under the EU-funded research and development programme Eurostars.

Capable of detecting very small and complicated cancer tumours
The scanner to be developed is called a 3D Molecular Breast Imager (3D MBI).

Small cancer tumours and their position in the breast can be identified more accurately, and the hope is to be able to diagnose breast cancer tumours far more accurately and securely than is currently the case.

With the existing equipment, there may be uncertainty about the detection of small tumours. This is especially the case for patients with high breast tissue density, and here a typical X-ray examination cannot distinguish precisely enough between the dense tissue and a tumour.

Based on technology for future space mission
DTU Space has already developed prototype detectors for space research purposes. These detectors include signal processing electronics as well as the special algorithms which are subsequently used to form very precise images based on the collected data.

The new project is based on this technology. And it looks so promising that Kromek itself contacted DTU, because the same principles can be used to detect cancer tumours.

“It’s exciting that space technology can be used in the healthcare sector. And through our collaboration with the industry, we’re looking forward to being able to supply equipment based on this technology for a high-energy space mission when this becomes relevant,” says Irfan Kuvvetli.

From space exploration to cancer screening

The detector technology which constitutes DTU Space’s contribution to the 3D MBI scanner has—in principle—been developed to examine with great accuracy so-called high-energy X-ray and gamma radiation in the form of photons from events in the universe. In a detector for examination of cancer, the objective is also to register photons with great accuracy.


The principle in the 3D MBI technology is that a weak and short-lived radioactive tracer is injected into the bloodstream of the person to be examined. The tracer is concentrated in any tumour in the breast and emits gamma rays (photons) with relatively high energy.


The detector is placed around the breast and registers the photons, making it possible to obtain a very precise high-resolution image of the size and location of a tumour.


In contrast to X-ray photons, the gamma photons are not absorbed in connection with breast tissue passage. The imaging will therefore be of a high quality—even for women with high breast tissue density.


Scientists have demonstrated that the detector—which is called 3D CZT (CdZnTe)—has a resolution of 0.5 mm in all three dimensions (x, y, z). And DTU Space has taken out two patents for the technology.

News and filters

Get updated on news that match your filter.