Feature stories | Technology & innovation

Nizhny Novgorod developers offer women gentle mammography

2 Apr '13
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor

Nizhny Novgorod researchers in the mid-Volga area have come up with a promising X-ray optics technology that its developers believe has the potential to evolve into a real boon for millions of women across the world. Their XFormer, a hardware and software module to keep tabs on, lends radiologists all over the globe a long-awaited hand in taking as much care of the woman’s breast as it is possible in X-ray imaging, while making mammograms much more informative than they are today. Building upon a broader X-radiation control project developed in Nizhny Novgorod, the emerging system may go international and give X-ray machine manufacturers a competitive edge; it could also give a major face-lift to a swarm of digitally-enabled X-ray units already in medical use. The developers claim the system is adjustable to other medical applications, such as ultrasound. The project is at a very early stage; yet CROX-NN, the young university spin-off set up to push the technology, bets on success right out of the gate. It seeks a strategic investor and hopes to eventually develop the muscle to supply a very ambitious 60% of the needs of its primary market—the global X-ray majors looking for ways of improving products for mammography.

The Nizhny Novgorod innovators have developed what they say is a ternary system customizable for various medical radiology purposes and enabling full and easy control of radiation intensity and distribution in a screening beam.

The developer

The key driver behind the XFormer project is Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod, a major fundamental research and education hub for the entire mid-Volga area established in 1916.

CROX-NN (Crystal X-Ray Optics), a young university spin-off, has been set up to bring the technology to market. It received its first seed capital in 2011 from the Moscow-based government-owned Bortnik Fund in an effort to develop a broader X-radiation control project, purposing to avoid deficiencies that most current X-ray optical systems have.

The XFormer is building upon that ‘parent’ idea and offers a smarter solution for patient-friendly diagnostics of breast disorders.

Minimizing unsafe exposure, maximizing image sharpness

The XFormer is a compact unit consisting of a crystal monochromator (a device selecting a defined wavelength of X-radiation), a crystal controller, and proprietary software that enables spatial modulation of monochromatic X-ray beams.

Using the system in mammography is expected to make the most of its competitive advantages, as with the XFormer a patient would be exposed to a much-reduced radiation dose (ten times lower than in conventional systems) and a radiologist would have a much sharper and more detailed image to analyze than is considered standard today.

The invention is seen as a powerful and accurate, yet gentle solution in detecting breast cancer at exceptionally early stages.

The markets

The international X-ray optics market for mammography has been steadily growing over the past ten years, and the developers estimate by 2015 it will reach $6bn a year. The entire market for all X-ray optics is forecasted to grow at an even greater pace to as much as $35bn.

The demand for new mammography units in the developed countries is estimated to be about 17,000 a year. It is satisfied predominantly by such major players as GE Healthcare, Bruker, Agilent Technology, Shimadzu and other global leaders in the manufacture of medical and other X-ray units.

These make the primary market for Nizhny Novgorod’s XFormer. CROX-NN hopes to beef itself up enough to start supplying a very ambitious 60% of what needs this primary market may have for innovation solutions for their products. In so doing, the Nizhny team is ready to compete with other innovators that might offer the majors their own high tech solutions for X-ray imaging improvement, and deliver their customizable system in a range of modifications.

Another market could be clinics, hospitals, labs and other facilities running X-ray machines on a daily basis and feeling the need to modernize.

Improving new equipment and upgrading existing one

The system may come in two options: complete with any type of commercially produced X-ray units for mammography as a built-in component, or as a separate add-on to smarten up a throng of digitally-enabled X-ray machines currently used in clinics, hospitals, etc. The XFormer cannot renovate analog diagnostics tools, though.

Easily adaptable, the XFormer could be adjusted to other radiology uses, like in ultrasound, CROX-NN says.
Oleg Kouzbit, managing editor: “I’m glad you join us here and take The Bridge walk for Marchmont’s weekly review of the Russian regions’ innovative present and future. Stay close and you’ll find out more of how Russia is bridging the existing gap between its researchers and businesses.”
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Locations: Nizhny Novgorod

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