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Landmine detection helping to fight breast cancer


Scientists researching ways to detect landmines have discovered a radical new way to screen for breast cancer using microwave radar technology that could save thousands of lives.

Bristol-based Micrima Ltd, a spin-out from Bristol University, has received a £150,000 investment from NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) to help the company develop this innovative technology. This is part of a funding round worth £475,000 with co-investment from private investors and Sulis, the University Challenge Fund managed by Quester.

Breast cancer is the most common cause of death in women between the ages of 35 and 55 in Europe. With approximately 500,000 deaths each year and 1.4 million new cases, one in eight women will contract the disease during their lifetime. One of the biggest challenges currently facing the medical profession is the early detection and accurate diagnosis of this disease which gives the best chances of recovery.

Each year 1.5 million women are screened for breast cancer in the UK. At present, breast cancer screening is carried out mainly by X-ray mammography which is more suitable for women over 50 when breast tissue is less fibrous. The new method needs no breast compression and the ‘radiation’ used is non-ionising unlike x-rays, which because of potential health effects, has to be used sparingly, and avoided where possible in younger women. In contrast, the radar method may be very suitable for younger women, and has absolutely no health detriment.

No single method is perfect but Micrima’s microwave radar technology has the potential to revolutionise breast screening as it can offer a quick method of imaging which may help avoid unnecessary and expensive biopsies.

The company’s innovative technology was originally developed for detecting buried landmines. Mine detection and breast screening share similar characteristics in that they both involve the discovery of a discrete object whose electrical properties are different from the surrounding medium. At microwave frequencies, tumours contrast well with normal breast tissue.

The investment round will fund the acquisition of first clinical data and further commercial and technical development. As part of the round, Roy Johnson will join Micrima as Executive Chairman. Roy is an experienced medical device and diagnostics executive, with over 25 years experience at senior and board level in both private and public international companies.

Mark White , NESTA Invention and Innovation Director, said: “This ground-breaking technology from Micrima is a great example of the kind of world-class technology in the UK our early stage seed funding is designed to support. Through investing in its innovative technology early on we are looking to ensure that this idea has every opportunity of being fully commercialised, benefiting so many thousands of women, those working in healthcare, and the UK economy."

Chief executive, Roy Johnson, added: “The half-million pound funding from NESTA and the SULIS seedcorn fund is a major step towards making this new screening programme available to all women.”

Joseph Meaney | alfa
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