X-ray light revolutionaries

December 11, 2017 by Giu­lia Adagazza, ETH Zurich
How the new mam­mog­ra­phy sys­tem might look: the breast is guided through an open­ing and x-rayed while sus­pended, mak­ing it pain­less for the pa­tient. Credit: GratXray

The ETH spin-off GratXray is working to improve precision in mammography. With the help of an innovative new device, breast cancer detection might not only become more accurate, but also painless. This is a revolutionary step in breast screening.

Every start-up begins with a vision of conquering the market with new ideas, but a number of milestones must first be reached before the successful founding of a company. This was the case for GratXray, a spin-off that grew out of ETH Zurich and the Paul-Scherrer Institute (PSI) this summer.

Grating is the key

"There's a fairly long story behind the founding of GratXray," says Marco Stampanoni, co-founder of the spin-off and professor of X-ray imaging at ETH Zurich. The scientists laid the foundation for their company between 2006 and 2017, during which time they worked consistently on the further development of X-ray phase contrast mammography. By integrating three gratings into conventional X-ray systems, it became possible not only to measure how strongly the tissue absorbs the X-rays, but also how X-rays are refracted and scattered.

The additional information gained in the process produces extremely high-contrast images, making it possible to visualise even the finest tissue structures. This makes it easier to reach conclusions about the state of the tissue examined and detect signs of breast cancer, such as micro-calcifications, at an early stage. "Thanks to this approach, based on grating interferometry, we have taken an important step towards clinical application," says Stampanoni. In addition, GratXray has already made a name for itself. The spin-off recently won the Swiss Technology Award.

Moving towards market viability

With the founding of GratXray, more than ten years of expertise are now being channelled into the development of a new type of mammography device. "In order to attempt this step, I had to be able to rely on the help of my founding partners, whom I fully trust," says Stampanoni. He found such a partner in his long-time colleague Zhentian Wang, who as CTO is now in charge of the technical implementation. Stampanoni was also able to get Martin Stauber, a former doctoral colleague from the Institute for Biomedical Engineering at ETH Zurich, on board for this project.

Stauber, who is now CEO of the spin-off, is convinced of the medical necessity of the new method: "Conventional methods are unsatisfactory and often lead to false or ambiguous diagnoses." For example, eight out of ten women unnecessarily undergo a biopsy because current mammograms are too inaccurate, putting a great deal of psychological stress on the patient. Even more, state-of-the-art mammograms are painful for woman, as the breast must be strongly compressed to capture a good image.

Rethinking mammography

GratXray's new method makes it possible to scan a patient while they are laying prone on a bed. The breast is guided through an opening in the examination table and x-rayed with a computer tomography device mounted under the table, making this type of mammography painless. The radiation dose will be the same as that of conventional mammography, but grating interferometry will yield high-resolution, high-contrast 3-D images.

The GratXray team is currently working with external engineers to develop a prototype that is expected to be ready for clinical use in two years' time. To keep to this schedule, the spin-off is collaborating closely with clinical partners such as Kantonsspital Baden and University Hospital Zurich. Stauber is convinced: "The step from laboratory to hospital will only be successful if the device is suitable for clinical requirements and routines." For this reason, the procedure will soon be tested in 2-D on patients in vivo and not on tissue samples as in the past. The researchers say that the study will provide valuable insights, which will be incorporated into developing the prototype.

Explore further: Phase contrast improves mammography

Related Stories

Phase contrast improves mammography

May 15, 2014
Phase contrast X-ray imaging has enabled researchers at ETH Zurich, the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the Kantonsspital Baden to perform mammographic imaging that allows greater precision in the assessment of breast cancer ...

A promising new method for the diagnosis of breast cancer

October 24, 2013
According to a study that has just been published, a novel mammography procedure developed at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), in cooperation with the Certified Breast Centre of the Kantonsspital Baden and the industrial ...

Abbreviated breast MRI may be additional screening option for dense breasts

November 28, 2017
Among women with dense breast tissue, for whom traditional mammograms are less effective at detecting cancer, who request additional screening after a negative mammogram, abbreviated breast MRI (AB-MR) may be a valuable cancer ...

Why physicians recommend 3-D mammograms

November 1, 2017
For women over the age of 40, getting a yearly screening mammogram is an essential part of maintaining their breast health. While most mammograms are normal, occasionally a second screening will need to be performed. Getting ...

New ultrasound technology could save lives of women with dense breast tissue

September 1, 2017
A new research project at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is recruiting women with dense breast tissue to examine the effectiveness of a novel breast ultrasound device. SoftVue is the world's first 3-D, whole-breast ...

Recommended for you

Revenge of a forgotten medical 'genius'

June 30, 2018
It's not an uncommon fate for a pioneering scientist: languishing unrecognised in his time before dying in obscurity. But as his 200th birthday approaches, the life-saving work of a Hungarian obstetrician is finally getting ...

Yes, you can put too much chlorine in a pool

June 2, 2018
(HealthDay)—Before you take a dip in the pool this summer, be sure there's not too much chlorine in the water.

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.