Kiwi ingenuity perks up European breast research

Matakina chief executive Ralph Highnam
What a radiologist might see after an x-ray. The 4 indicates dense breasts

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Wellington breast screening company Matakina Technologies has scored a European coup worth hundreds of thousands of euros.

Its breast imaging software Volpara, which measures breast density, will be used in a new three-year Adapting Breast Cancer Screening Strategy Using Personalised Risk Estimation (ASSURE) research project launched recently by the European Union.  

Matakina will measure more than 80,000 screening mammograms during the six months it is involved in the trial.

ASSURE project researchers say they have recognised the one-size-fits-all approach for breast cancer screening offers little benefit to some women, particularly those with dense breasts.

The aim is to develop technology to provide better screening options for intermediate- and high-risk women, such as ultrasound or MRI imaging, based on personalised risk factors.

The three-year project will cost researchers 6 million euro, with a number of other institutes involved, including Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands, University of Manchester, University of Girona in Spain and Jules Bordet Institute in Brussels.

Dr Carla van Gils from the Netherlands University’s Medical Centre Utrecht is a partner in the trial and says Matakina researchers have a good track record for developing automated, objective density assessments.

“I have already been using Volpara in a large, randomised screening trial because of its robust clinical record," she says.

Matakina chief executive Ralph Highnam told NBR ONLINE the ASSURE project is one of the company’s biggest contracts and offers much more potential across Europe.

The company was set up in 2009 by a group of four specialists, including Dr Highnam, who met at a radiology conference in Chicago in the US and discussed the idea of using breast density statistics to detect early signs of breast cancer.

Matakina has spent the last three years and upwards of $3 million developing the Volpara software.

National Business Review last year reported Matakina's first New Zealand sale to the Auckland Breast Centre. There were also sales in the US, South Korea and Malaysia, with more trials to come from German, Ireland, Italy and Poland.

Matakina’s software sells around the world for $US30,000 and more, depending on the number of machines the software is being used on.

Dr Highnam says there are about 30,000 x-ray machines worldwide being used for breast screening and Matakina has the potential to tap into all of them.

Centres which take on the software pay a lump sum to Matakina and then on-going servicing costs. Other products will be based on the pay-as-you-go model, which, considering three million UK women are screened every year, could have its pay offs for the company.

Dr Highnam says the business has also been boosted by a new law in New York state which requires doctors to let women know their breast density.

New York is the fourth US state to do this, with California scheduled to follow in April.

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