Home Entrepreneurs Waterloo tech startup improves on the X-ray

Waterloo tech startup improves on the X-ray

by Ozva Admin

WATERLOO — There’s a bus that runs around the island of Taiwan using technology developed by a local start up which screens 300 people a day for lung cancer.

The mobile screening clinic has an X-ray machine that uses special imaging plates and software to produce high-quality images for a fraction of the cost of CT scans.

It was developed by KA Imaging Incorporated, a medtech startup co-founded in 2015 by Karim Karim, Associate Vice President of Commercialization and Entrepreneurship at the University of Waterloo.

He also teaches electrical engineering and computer science, and in 2011 Karim’s lab began working on lower-cost alternatives to CT scans. When traditional X-rays detect something suspicious, patients are almost always sent for a CT scan, which produces much better images.

But in rural and remote areas, the wait can be many months and the costs are very high. Many underserved communities do not have access to CT scans and patients may have to travel long distances.

“Imagine the access you could now provide to screening for a range of people who come from rural and disadvantaged backgrounds,” Karim said.

“This type of technology could serve as a very good TB (tuberculosis) screening tool also in indigenous communities where TB is a major problem,” Karim said.

In fact, back in 2011 I was originally working on just that: better imaging technology for early detection of TB. Government agencies invested about $5 million in their research that turned out to have several other applications.

A combination of hardware and software innovations developed by KA Imaging produces images that are nearly as good as CT scans, but cost 20 times less, Karim said.

“It’s a combination of better imaging data and affordability. That’s what drives it,” said Karim, whose startup is on Parkside Drive in Waterloo.

The technology is called dual-energy spectral X-rays and is used to detect lung cancers, tuberculosis, ruptures that cause a collapsed lung, and coronary heart disease. He is also very good at finding surgical instruments left inside patients after an operation.

“If you use this device as a screening tool, you’ll get information about lung cancer, heart disease, and tuberculosis all in one go,” Karim said.

In 2017, Grand River Hospital piloted the technology for the first clinical trial, said Carla Girolametto, the hospital’s director of innovation and research.

Some cancer patients were recruited for the trial. Doctors already knew they had lung cancer, and patients agreed to an additional round of X-rays using KA Imaging technology. The radiologists were impressed when they compared the KA images to traditional radiographs.

“The level of quality that we found in the images was really incredible,” Girolametto said. “It’s been a great partnership.”

The partnership will expand and focus on refining the images produced on portable X-ray units that are moved to patients’ beds, he said.

“It is mainly used for patients who cannot be easily transported to the medical imaging department,” Girolametto said.

When high-quality images can be produced using KA technology, patients do not need a CT scan. That saves money and frees up time on CT scans for other patients, she said.

The Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto will begin using KA technology in the new year.

Raphael Ronan is co-director of INOVAIT, which grew out of a federal program supporting new technology in medical imaging. INOVAIT is based in Sunnybrook and is tasked with creating a national network in image-guided therapy.

INOVAIT supported KA Imaging because the technology is promising and the startup has a strong team, Ronan said.

“They’re really doing a good job and they’re very promising,” Ronan said.

“For me, the KA Imaging value proposition has always been about providing more information without changing the way hospitals and physicians operate,” said Ronan.

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