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New X-ray technology in testing with cancer patients

Monday, November 12, 2018

A digital X-ray imager developed by a Waterloo Engineering startup is being tested on cancer patients with lung nodules in a pilot study at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener.

The new technology is faster and cheaper than traditional CT scans, and has the potential to detect lung cancer earlier and with less radiation exposure.

Sina Ghanbarzadeh (left) and Karim S. Karim at work together.

Sina Ghanbarzadeh (left) and Karim S. Karim at work in a Waterloo Engineering lab.

The system was developed by KA Imaging, a Kitchener company founded in 2015 by Waterloo Engineering professor Karim S. Karim and graduates Amol Karnick and Sina Ghanbarzadeh.

Their low-cost, portable, multi-energy X-ray detectors - flat panels that essentially act as the film in the process - produce clearer images than standard X-rays by differentiating soft tissue from bone.

The detectors can produce at least three separate images - one showing only bone, one showing only soft tissue and one showing both - instead of just one with existing X-ray machines.

Karim, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Waterloo, said that capability, together with the system’s low cost and low radiation levels, could help save lives by paving the way for widespread screening for early detection of lung cancer.

X-ray images provided by KA Imaging.

Sample images made with X-ray technology developed by Waterloo Engineering startup KA Imaging.

CT scans are typically used only for high-risk patients because of radiation concerns and standard X-rays aren’t accurate enough for diagnostic purposes.

“If a cancer lesion is located in the apex of a lung and bone obscures it, it can’t hide anymore,” Karim said. “If an abnormality is hiding behind the heart, we can see it nice and clearly.”

The study at Grand River Hospital, which will involve up to 30 patients with existing lung nodules, is comparing the quality of images from CT scans and the company’s prototype X-ray imager.

“The human side of this work is so important,” said Dr. Vikram Venkatesh, a radiologist who is leading the study. “We cannot make advancements in patient care without first working with them to trial new technologies.”

Patients get X-rays using the new panel, which is installed on one of the hospital’s existing X-ray machines, on the same day as their scheduled CT scans.

Company launched with help from WatCo

“We are excited to partner with KA Imaging to trial this innovative technology at Grand River Hospital,” said Tina Mah, the vice president of research and innovation. “Our mandate is to advance exceptional care and we continue to be leaders in our community by trialing new technologies, like this multi-energy X-ray, in partnership with our patients.”

KA Imaging, which has 24 employees, was launched with support from the Waterloo Commercialization Office (WatCo) at the University of Waterloo.

Its initial prototype was developed with funding from Grand Challenges Canada, the Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Fight Against Cancer Innovation Trust.

The company recently received Health Canada approval to extend the trial to patients suspected of having lung cancer as well as those who have already been diagnosed. It expects to launch a commercial version of its technology in mid-2019.

“Partnering with Grand River Hospital is a tremendous opportunity to trial this innovation at home in the Waterloo Region,” said Karnick, the president and CEO. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with GRH, working together to improve patient care in our region.”

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