NHS to boost X-ray scanning with space tech

Cancer-detecting 3D scanners first to benefit from £4m fund to translate space technologies into medical equipment

Satellite in space

Technology used to scan stars across distant galaxies will be incorporated into a portable 3D medical X-ray machine to be used in GP surgeries across the UK.

The UK Space Agency will funnel 1 million into developing equipment that can allow doctors to more comprehensively scan for tumours than existing 2D scanning technology.

These next-gen scanners will also be miniaturised, portable and satellite-linked, meaning patients can be examined via X-Rays in GP surgeries immediately instead of having to wait for hospital referral.

This is the latest digital transformation project the NHS will undertake following a string of government commitments to integrate technology into the healthcare sector.

Health secretary Matt Hancock, in particular, has advanced the need for the NHS to make better use of emerging technologies being developed by the UK's digital sector.

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"Technology has enormous potential to save lives. This is a brilliant example of how innovators can work with the NHS to help save lives with more early diagnosis of cancer," Hancock said.

"It's all part of our NHS Long Term Plan, building on the work of NHSX, our new organisation built to drive new technology through the NHS.

"We will deliver by opening the doors of the NHS to the best technologies like this, to build a preventative, personalised and world-leading health and care service."

The 3D X-ray machine is based on technologies currently used to scan distant stars. These include field emitters etched onto silicon wafers, used in ion thrusters, as well as X-ray optics deployed in star mapping missions.

The NHS hopes that repurposing this technology into a form that can be used in practical healthcare settings will save clinicians and patients time, as well as improve detection rates for cancer.

The scanner, built by Adaptix, is the first of four projects to receive a share of 4 million innovation fund put forward by the European Space Agency's (ESA) Business Applications and Space Solutions programme.

"Being incubated at the world-renowned Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire's Harwell Campus, a major centre for the UK Space industry, has given us access to fantastic facilities and leading minds to support the development of our space-heritage technology," said Adaptix's CEO Mark Evans.

"Our vision is to create a business that will Transform Radiology through the export of high-science-content high-value products to achieve revenues of more than $100m.

"X-ray is the primary diagnostic in healthcare - one day we hope that Adaptix technology will touch the lives of everyone that you know and being supported by the NHS through this grant will help our team realise this vision."

This joint venture between the UK Space Agency, the ESA, and NHS England was launched in June 2018. This collective asked companies to bid for a portion of the 4 million to translate technology originally built for space into medical equipment that can improve patient care.

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It's also an example of how technology is being brought in to digitally transform the NHS in an innovative fashion directly relevant to front-line patient care.

By contrast, a great deal of health service digital transformation will centre on streamlining back-end systems to release funds that can subsequently be channelled into direct healthcare.

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