Kiwi scientists revolutionising x-ray scanning technology

We have awarded Gold Status for research excellence to a project that is revolutionising the way x-ray technology will detect, diagnose and monitor many diseases, including cancer.

The joint initiative between the universities of Canterbury and Otago, and MARS Bioimaging Ltd known as the MARS Programme is producing a spectral molecular scanner which provides 3D colour images of objects inside the body such as bone, soft tissue, and artificial joints.

One of the lead researchers, Professor Anthony Butler, says the research team is at the forefront of this new technology that will deliver significant health benefits.

“This spectral molecular imaging technology really is the next big medical imaging innovation, and these 3D images will provide clinicians with information that is currently not possible in CT, MRI or PET scans,” says Professor Butler.

“The implications of this research will be huge for the medical profession. The capability of this scanner will enable greater diagnosis and monitoring of many diseases, and will lead to better outcomes for patients – particularly in stroke prevention, joint replacement and cancer management.

“The technology also has significant financial benefits, with the potential to add more than $50 million per year to the New Zealand economy once the manufactured products arising from this research are in regular use in hospitals.”

The team’s main goal is for MARS Bioimaging Ltd to market MARS scanners developed by Canterbury University, where proof of concept trials have been undertaken at Otago University Christchurch. The initial market is a range of researchers from many institutes. The research has also been supported by the MedTech Centre of Research Excellence and GE Healthcare. GE is providing a top of the line CT scanner to the MARS team to accelerate the research. As an another example of the interdisciplinary nature of the MARS programme, the GE scanner will be installed in the animal facilities at Lincoln University.

“We will also be exploring potential applications in other industries such as border security, forestry, agriculture and mining,” says Professor Butler.

Professor Phil Butler, science leader at the start of this MARS project and now CEO of MARS Bioimaging Ltd says “Medical innovations have high commercial value and high social impact, but long lead times. The strong support of MBIE has been essential over the duration of this project, a project that is just beginning to break into the pre-clinical research market in the US, India and China.”

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