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Health and wellness

Faster, cheaper MRIs a new breast-screening option from Hong Kong start-up

Galen MRI Systems’ machine is optimised for scanning Asian women’s breasts, cuts scanning time from an hour to 15 minutes and saves 70 per cent on cost; hospitals and clinics can use it once regulatory approvals are complete

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 6:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 6:52pm

Women worried about the discomfort of having a mammogram, or the high cost of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screening, may soon have another way of checking their breast health.

Galen MRI Systems recently debuted its EMMA machine, designed for quicker scans using a technology tailored for Asian women who tend to have denser breasts, at Hong Kong Science Park.

Professor David Tse, Stelux Professor of Marketing at the University of Hong Kong, is co-founder and director of this Hong Kong start-up. He says mammograms cost HK$2,500 to $3,000 (US$320-$380), while MRI scans, which offer clearer and more reliable images, cost about HK$10,000; these are often used to scan women with a high risk of breast cancer.

“It takes almost an hour to scan, which means every day you only have eight patients, or a capacity of only eight to 10 patients,” Tse says, explaining the high cost of MRIs.

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Thanks to advances in imaging technology, and breakthroughs by Dr Christopher Comstock of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, the start-up produced a machine that drastically reduces the time it takes for a breast scan, and thus the cost. The EMMA machine take 15 minutes, and each scan costs about HK$3,000, Tse says.

Tse says Comstock received a grant from the US National Institutes of Health to produce a better, faster scanning procedure. His research culminated in the imaging protocol technology that is used in the EMMA system.

Most MRI systems for breast scans are not designed for smaller Asian physiques, and particularly for women whose breast tissue is denser than normal. Most use a single, standard-sized coil to generate images. That coil may not fit Asian women, which can make the scan less reliable, Tse says.

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EMMA machines have three coils – small, medium and large. This should result in higher-resolution scans that permit more precise diagnoses. EMMA’s MRI technology does not use ionising radiation or X-rays, so is considered a safer option.

The machine has passed medical device safety tests in Hong Kong, and the company is applying for approvals from the US Food and Drug Administration, China’s Food and Drug Administration and for CE marking in Europe. The approvals are expected by July, when EMMA may start to find its way into clinics and hospitals in Hong Kong.