Science + Technology

Startup to develop new solid-state technology at UCLA for use in medical imaging

Radius Health joins tech incubator at CNSI to conduct proof-of-concept research

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While today many medical-imaging needs are being met with traditional vacuum tube–based technology, large segments of the X-ray–imaging market are poorly served, and there is widespread demand for both performance improvements and cost reductions.  
 
Based on groundbreaking patented technology licensed from UCLA, startup company Radius Health is developing a lightweight, flat-panel X-ray source — Microemitter Array X-rays (MAX) technology — that has the potential to address these needs by enabling new X-ray imaging applications while lowering the cost of traditional applications.
 
The startup has been selected to move into the UCLA on-campus incubator space at the California NanoSystems Institute to develop a lightweight X-ray emitter employing MAX technology — an X-ray source on a chip capable of delivering the same spectrum as traditional sources. 
 
The MAX technology was developed by Gil Travish, Ph.D., a research scientist in the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy, and his colleagues James Rosenzweig, a UCLA professor of physics, and Rodney Yoder, an assistant professor of physics at Manhattanville College in New York.
 
The MAX technology works like this: Using an array of particle sources from microfabricated structures, parallel X-rays are generated uniformly across a flat panel. The MAX source, which can be produced using the current generation of semiconductor foundry processes, generates diagnostic X-rays without the need for fragile vacuum tubes and bulky, expensive power electronics and radioactive materials.
 
The technology has the potential to deliver advanced — and potentially safer — imaging options than are available with current commercial X-ray systems, and to extend the 'application space' of X-ray radiology.
 
"Moving our development activities into CNSI is a real landmark moment for us," said Mark Evans, CEO for Radius Health. "The access to the facilities and knowledge will greatly help us accelerate our product to market and bring this key technology nearer to deployment in clinical systems."
 
Radius Health expects to make extensive use of the microfabrication facilities at the new Integrated Systems Nanofabrication Cleanroom at CNSI.
 
The use of pyroelectric emission is important, as the voltage required to generate electrons within the X-ray production process is produced within a crystal, eliminating the need for 'clean' power supplies, transformers, high-voltage electronics and the associated shielding required — and most importantly, fragile vacuum tubes.
 
Unlike past efforts with pyroelectric-based sources, Radius Health is able to control the emission of electrons and thus maintain a stable and controlled emission of X-rays, which allows this type of source to be applied to clinical applications.
 
The journey from vacuum tubes to flat panels could be as transformational in X-rays as it has been in visual displays.
 
"In most areas of electronic product development, such as computing, displays and radar, solid-state technology has replaced vacuum-tube technology due to the improvements in reliability, energy consumption and portability," Travish said. "We see this story being extended to X-ray sources."
 
The UCLA on-campus Technology Incubator Program at the CNSI is an innovative resource with a mission to help accelerate the growth of entrepreneurial startup companies and early-stage technology research projects that originate at UCLA. The incubator offers shared, flexible lab space dedicated to housing eight to 10 early-stage incubation projects for short periods of time.
 
The California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA is an integrated research center operating jointly at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara whose mission is to foster interdisciplinary collaborations for discoveries in nanosystems and nanotechnology; train the next generation of scientists, educators and technology leaders; and facilitate partnerships with industry, fueling economic development and the social well-being of California, the United States and the world. The CNSI was established in 2000 with $100 million from the state of California and an additional $250 million in federal research grants and industry funding. At the institute, scientists in the areas of biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, mathematics, computational science and engineering are measuring, modifying and manipulating the building blocks of our world — atoms and molecules. These scientists benefit from an integrated laboratory culture enabling them to conduct dynamic research at the nanoscale, leading to significant breakthroughs in the areas of health, energy, the environment and information technology.

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