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Kodak & Canterbury Uni working on healthcare

Global giant and Canterbury University working on healthcare revolution

The multi-national Eastman Kodak Company is forming a joint venture company with researchers at the University of Canterbury, to develop the world’s first non-invasive digital imaging breast screening technique.

The new company will use Eastman Kodak’s photographic and imaging expertise to develop a technique researchers say could revolutionise breast screening services and significantly improve detection rates.

The company will be based at the university’s Centre for Bioengineering which was officially opened this week.

Its director, Professor Tim David, says the project with Eastman Kodak is expected to cost up to $12-million over 5 to 6 years.

He says the new procedure, which is being developed by senior mechanical engineering lecturer Dr Geoff Chase and fellow mechanical engineering lecturer Dr Eli Van Houten, would do away with x-rays and focus on movement of tissue in the breast.

Cancerous tissue is between 5 and 50 times stiffer than healthy tissue. The new procedure would use digital imaging to measure tissue stiffness while a small vibration was passed through it.

“By looking at how the surface of the breast moves you’ll be able to understand what’s going on underneath by doing what’s called an inverse problem,” Professor David says.

“That means by looking at how the tissue moves you can actually detect what’s underneath the skin in the tissue and if there are any tumours within that tissue. The movement of the skin will actually give you a clue as to how big that tumour is and where it is.” Dr Chase and Dr Van Houten envisage the new procedure being more appealing to women and say the equipment would be compact and easily transportable to medical centres, particularly in remote areas.

“One of the big advantages of this is everything we’re doing is non-invasive. There’s also no compression required and there’s no x-ray dose. These are all the things that women complain about and which cause lower compliance in mammography,” Dr Chase says.

He is confident that the procedure could increase the chance of smaller tumours being detected and improve the survival rate of breast cancer sufferers.

Another benefit would be the procedure’s use of computers and digital imaging technology.

“As we all know computers get faster and as these computers and these digital imaging sensors get faster with higher resolution they will not only get cheaper, but we’ll be able to do better for the same kind of input. So we should improve naturally over time as the type of technology that underlies it improves.”

Dr Chase says the multi-million dollar venture will be funded initially by the Ministry of Economic Development and the government’s science funding agency, the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

About 10 post-graduate students will eventually be hired by the new company to work on the project.

Dr Chase expects the company, which is yet to be named, will be operational by next month.

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