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Stargazing Technology Could Soon Be Used to Detect Cancer

It’s usually used to observe stars millions of miles away, but stargazing technology could soon also be used to detect cancer, according to a new study.

An X-ray machine that uses space technology to generate crystal-clear images that doctors can use to detect early signs of cancer has been granted $1.35 million (€1.2 million) in funding by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the UK Space Agency, according to an ESA news release.

Cancers are often missed on normal X-rays, which produce slightly fuzzy images that can be difficult to interpret. This can mean that by the time it is discovered, the disease has advanced and becomes difficult to treat.

Engineers from UK company Adaptix have used technology developed for space to produce 3D scans that generate much clearer images. The device employs X-ray optics deployed on spacecraft such as ESA’s XMM-Newton mission, which launched in 1999 and is observing stars at X-ray wavelengths.

The 3D mobile X-ray machine uses space technology to generate crystal-clear images.
(Photo Credit: Adaptix Imaging / ESA)

“The huge potential of space technology isn’t just about reaching out into the universe — it’s here on earth that its greatest impact can be seen, from 5G to tackling climate change or ensuring we can all benefit through space inspired healthcare technologies such as these,” said UK science minister Chris Skidmore.

The machine is compact, portable, and connected through satellites, and should also allow patients to be scanned in physicians’ clinics, reducing the need for trips to the hospital and shortening waiting times for patients, according to ESA.

Adaptix, the company that developed the cutting-edge X-ray machine, was nurtured at ESA’s business incubation center in Harwell, UK.

Professor Tony Young, NHS England’s national clinical director for innovation, said: “Last year as we celebrated the NHS’s 70th birthday we challenged industry to bring technology designed for outer space into the NHS.

The machine is the first of four projects receiving funding from the UK Space Agency. The other projects will be announced over the coming weeks.
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