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Austin’s Stellarray Looks to Develop the Next Wave of X-Ray

Xconomy Texas — 

Austin, TX’s Stellarray aims to democratize access to radiography.

Right now, imaging machines like CT scanners are large, bulky, and expensive, and usually housed in major medical centers. “We’re taking an open architecture approach to radiography,” says Mark Eaton, Stellarray’s founder and CEO. “We want to make it affordable and portable.”

Stellarray has developed imaging technology that, Eaton says, would more cheaply and easily perform functions like mammograms or irradiating blood. Think of it as flat-screen panels meet laser-like X-rays.

The technology at the heart of the device is called a Flat Panel X-ray Source. The flat panel X-ray uses a specially engineered array of cathodes, compared to the single cathode in an X-ray tube currently used. The panels are used in Stellarray’s Self-Contained Blood Irradiator, which is about one-third the size and weight of currently used irradiators.

The first market the company is going after is blood irradiation. Blood donation centers and large healthcare institutions that must keep on hand large blood supplies for transfusions often irradiate blood to ensure it’s safe. But the current method involves the use of cesium-137, which has been identified as a national security hazard because it can be used to make a dirty bomb.

“We spent two years asking healthcare professionals what they need,” Eaton says.

The company will soon start a pilot program at three institutions, including St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Eaton says Stellarray is pursuing a 510(k) medical device clearance from the Food and Drug Administration and hopes to sell the device for about $200,000 starting next year.

Stellarray was founded a decade ago, and has raised $7.5 million largely in the form of government grants such as those coming from the SBIR program and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.

X-rays were discovered more than 100 years ago, and very quickly began to be used in medical treatments. But other than switching to digital film about 15 years ago, advances in radiography have been few, Eaton says.

Further down the line, Eaton says he believes the flat panel technology can be used to make more portable X-ray devices, including those that use phase-contrast imaging, which (like CT scans) can image not only bones, but internal organs. The phase-contrast imaging needs much lower doses of radiation, but so far, can only be administered from large particle accelerators.

A “portable” CT device is “going to be another revolution,” Eaton says.