Stargazing technology developed in Oxfordshire to be used to spot cancer


Cancer could be detected in patients far earlier by using the same technology used to observe stars millions of miles away.

Cancers are often missed on traditional 2D X-rays so are sometimes only discovered later when the disease is more advanced and difficult to treat.

Now experts at Adaptix, based at Begbroke Science Park in Oxford has been granted £1 million of UK Space Agency funding to develop a pioneering portable 3D medical X-ray machine, based on technology used to study stars in distant galaxies.

The equipment will allow doctors to get a more comprehensive view of areas where they suspect tumours are growing, aiding more effective treatment and earlier diagnosis.

Miniaturised, portable and connected through satellites, the kit could also allow patients to be scanned in doctors’ surgeries, reducing the need for trips to hospital for busy X-ray and CT scanners.

The scanner relies on technology developed for space; including field emitters etched onto silicon wafers used previously in ion thrusters and X-ray optics deployed on star mapping spacecraft such as the European Space Agency’s XMM Newton mission, in which the UK played a major role.

The project will help to address the key NHS 70th Anniversary Challenges of managing long term conditions, including joined-up health and care services, earlier diagnosis of cancer and transforming GP services and other primary care.

Launched in June 2018, this joint initiative between the UK Space Agency, NHS England and the European Space Agency, asked innovators to bid for a share of £4 million to turn technology originally designed for space into medical applications that improve NHS treatment and care.

Nick Appleyard, Head of Business Applications at the European Space Agency (ESA) said: This is a wonderful example of how ESA supports innovation. The company that developed the portable X-ray machine, Adaptix, started life in ESA’s Business Incubation Centre at Harwell in Oxfordshire and has grown to become a successful and innovative enterprise.”

Mark Evans, CEO of Adaptix Limited, said: “Our vision is to create a business that will tansform 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.

The Adaptix 3D X-ray machine is the first of four projects receiving a share of a £4 million innovation fund drawn from ESA’s Business Applications and Space Solutions programme, to which the UK is the largest subscriber. The three other winning applications will be announced in the coming weeks.

Last month the UK Space Agency revealed that every £1 of public spending generates up to £4 in value for the recipients in the space industry, with additional benefits to the UK economy.

The demanding environment of space means that investments in the sector generate new knowledge and innovations that extend far beyond the space industry. For example, satellites provide services that enable a wide range of economic activities, supporting industries worth £300 billion to the UK.