Waterloo startup lowers radiation & cost of X-rays

By Rosie Lombardi

amol-karnickConcern about the amount of radiation patients are exposed to when they receive X-rays and CT scans is growing in the medical community. To tackle this, KA Imaging, a University of Waterloo spin-off led by Dr. Karim S. Karim and Amol Karnick (pictured), has developed an X-ray system that has increased sensitivity, which allows it to lower radiation exposure by almost 40 percent using standard LCD technology instead of expensive specialized technology, while also maintaining a level of accuracy comparable to conventional X-ray systems. “We hope to start clinical testing next year,” says Karnick, president of KA Imaging.

The company recently received transition-to-scale funding from Grand Challenges Canada, which provides funding to boost companies that are helping to bring inexpensive medical technology to developing countries.

There are two parts to an X-ray system, explains Karnick. “There’s an X-ray transmission component, which is the source that creates the X-ray, and there’s a detector, which is essentially a camera that captures the image. We’ve improved the camera part that registers the X-rays.”

KA Imaging has made some innovative improvements to X-ray equipment with its KA X-ray detector, he says. One significant improvement is that the KA X-ray detector leverages the same mass-market LCD manufacturing technology widely used in smartphones and television screens everywhere. By contrast, conventional X-ray systems typically require specialized and expensive manufacturing that is monopolized by a small number of large companies.

The KA X-ray Detector that works with standard X-ray transmissions sources reduces the amount of radiation by 20 percent to 40 percent, depending on the mode, says Karnick.

“The way we re-did how the light sensor works made it more compatible with the LCD process, but it also improved the efficiency, which means you can use less radiation to get an accurate image.”

The KA X-ray detector’s light sensor is more sensitive because it has a superior “fill factor,” or light detection capabilities, he explains. “The fill factor of conventional X-ray systems is about 60 percent. Think about if you had a screen on a window. If the window is covered up by 40 percent by the screen, you get less light coming into the house, versus only 5 percent. We can capture more light because we have a much higher fill factor.”

KA Imaging’s approach can also be used to replace computerized tomography (CT) scanning, which typically combines multiple X-ray images taken from different angles and uses computer processing to create cross-sectional digital images.

“We came up with a different way of performing dual energy X-rays which can replace CT scanning. Typical dual X-ray is achieved by taking two radiation exposures on a single X-ray detector, one at a high energy to capture bone structures and another at low energy for soft tissue. Instead, our process uses two X-ray detectors simultaneously, one tuned for low energy, and another for high energy. Now with one X-ray exposure, we can get a dual energy image. That lowers the patient’s radiation exposure even further, by 50 percent.”

The KA X-ray detector, which offers improved contrast between bone and soft tissue, higher resolution images, and lower X-ray doses, is being designed to replace conventional X-ray and CT scans for many common diagnostic procedures.

“Our technology can replace analog image intensifier X-ray video cameras in interventional radiology, which will allow doctors to perform additional procedures for the hospital. Lower X-ray doses are particularly relevant where X-ray doses limit the number of procedures radiologists are able to perform annually. Lower X-ray doses are also critical for children and other vulnerable members of the patient population, who are very susceptible to the cancer-causing effects of X-ray radiation.”

Karnick says the company hopes to have KA X-ray Detector systems available on the market to the medical community by the end of 2017. “Our systems will cost 10 to 20 percent less than conventional system, depending on market conditions.”

The company is in talks with several major hospitals across Canada, USA, and other countries to test its systems early next year. “We’re getting interest globally because we offer better image quality and lower radiation doses. We have also generated a lot of attention of a lot of the doctors, and they’ve been helping us by giving a lot of early feedback. They’re really eager to get involved in the testing phase.”

For more information, visit http://www.kaimaging.com/ or contact Amol Karnick at akarnick@kaimaging.com

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