Innovation award for professor’s world-leading medical imaging research

Professor Nigel Allinson at the IET AwardsA professor from the University of Lincoln has won a major national award for innovation in recognition of his team’s ground-breaking work in developing new medical imaging technologies.

Professor Nigel Allinson, Distinguished Professor of Image Engineering in the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln, was presented with the Institution of Engineering and Technology 2012 Innovation Award for Electronics.

Winners were selected from among more than 400 entries from 25 countries and were announced at a glittering black-tie ceremony in London on 22 November, hosted by the Olympic swimmer and television presenter Mark Foster.

The award was presented to Professor Allinson in his role as co-founder of ISDI Ltd: a company that interfaces between the international silicon foundries and funded grants, such as the recently announced Wellcome Trust grant on proton therapy.   ISDI also provides a route to commercialise new technologies arising from his research.

Prof Allinson and his team were up against strong competition in the Electronics category. Other winners on the night included heavyweight names such as Bombardier Transportation, Network Rail, Smith and Nephew UK Ltd and University College London.

The IET Innovation Award was for the work of Professor Allinson and his research consortium in producing and commercialising the world’s largest radiation-tolerant CMOS image sensor for use in medical imaging.

The wafer scale imager, called DyNAMITe (Dynamic range Adjustable for Medical Imaging Technology), is nearly 13cm square, and is several hundred times larger than the chips that power laptops and PCs.

The research consortium, MI3-Plus, which funded the initial wafer scale imager, was led by Professor Allinson and funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It included medical physicists and engineers from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), University of Surrey and University College London.

Very large CMOS imagers, based on the same underlying technology as the small sensors in smartphones, will provide improved images with reduced patient exposure to radiation for most medical imaging needs, including x-ray CT and mammography.

Professor Allinson said: “We were extremely proud to win this prestigious award from the IET, particularly as we were up against such strong competition from across the world. It shows that a dedicated team in a small company and associated with a relatively small university can compete with the big companies and institutions.
“Our CMOS imagers will become the replacement for current imagers used in conventional medical imaging, such as x-ray CT and mammography. We currently have an order book with further designs for a world-leading healthcare company and are shipping the original detector to Cape Town in South Africa for the next step in our research – developing a unique medical imaging system for use in proton therapy treatment.”

This new phase in Professor Allinson’s research – the Pravda (Proton Radiotherapy Verification and Dosimetry Applications) project – is funded with a £1.6m Translation Award from the Wellcome Trust to the University of Lincoln.

Proton therapy is a state-of-the-art alternative to conventional radiotherapy. Rather than using x-rays, it employs a much more focussed and concentrated beam of protons (the elementary particle which, alongside neutrons, forms the nucleus at the heart of atoms) to target the tumour site.

This enables doctors to direct much higher doses of radiation at the tumour and with greater accuracy. However, the increased potency also carries with it greater risks and it is crucial that the proton beam is directed accurately to the tumour site, and at the right dose, to avoid damaging nearby healthy tissue.

The Pravda system will combine the new type of CMOS imager with other sensors created by the University of Liverpool and used in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in the recent detection of the Higgs Boson.

The technology will enable doctors to see in real time and in 3D how the radiation interacts with the tumour and surrounding tissue – considered the ‘holy grail’ of radiotherapy.

Pravda has the potential to make proton therapy a viable treatment for thousands more cancer patients each year and may make it possible to treat tumours in hard-to-reach parts of the body, such as the brain, spinal or eye.

Professor Andy Hopper, President of the IET, said: “These awards continue to showcase some great technological innovations being created across the world. Each help solve some of our biggest economic and social issues to deliver a brighter future, which is why I am very proud that the IET Innovation Awards cut straight to the core goal for the IET – advancing collaborative knowledge to enhance peoples’ lives.”

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