Marco Stampanoni (CH), Zhentian Wang and team (CN)

Finalists for the European Inventor Award 2022

Marco Stampanoni (CH), Zhentian Wang and team (CN)

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Category: Non-EPO countries

Sector: Medical technology

Company: GratXray AG/Paul Scherrer Institut (Switzerland)

Patent numbers: EP2400891B1 (2017), EP3140641B1 (2018), EP3341714B1 (2020), EP3005289B1 (2017)

Invention: Phase-contrast X-ray imaging for advanced breast cancer screening

The team led by scientists Marco Stampanoni and Zhentian Wang has developed a new 3D X-ray imaging system that provides higher-contrast mammogram scans, enabling clinicians to better detect small, early-stage tumours.

In the EU alone, over 355 000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. Early detection reduces the mortality rate, helps patients to recover faster and lowers treatment costs. However, conventional X-rays struggle to detect breast cancers because they pass too easily through soft tissue, making it difficult to differentiate between breast tissue and tumours. A Chinese-Swiss team led by researchers Marco Stampanoni and Zhentian Wang has developed a type of X-ray that provides high-resolution images of soft tissue using a safe amount of radiation. This groundbreaking imaging technique can detect tumours while they are small, giving patients a fighting chance of survival. 

The basis of Stampanoni and Wang's invention is a technique called grating interferometry (GI). It can detect how X-rays are diffracted and deflected as they pass through the breast, giving a higher resolution image and making it possible to better identify tumours at an early stage. Their technology has already been successfully retrofitted into a commercially available mammography system, without affecting the radiation dose or time required to perform a scan. The researchers are also developing a new type of mammogram system on which the patient lies down and the breast is not compressed. With this new method, they aim to produce high-resolution 3D images with no discomfort to the patient.

A step closer to early cancer detection

Wang studied physics in Beijing before transferring to the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) in Switzerland in 2007 to pursue postdoctoral research under Stampanoni. Their PSI colleagues had laid the foundation on GI, enabling Stampanoni and Wang to develop the technology further. In 2017, they co-founded the spin-off GratXray to commercialise their research.

  • Marco Stampanoni (left), Zhentian Wang and team

    Marco Stampanoni (left), Zhentian Wang and team

  • Phase-contrast X-ray imaging for advanced breast cancer screening

    Phase-contrast X-ray imaging for advanced breast cancer screening

  • Marco Stampanoni (right), Zhentian Wang and team

    Marco Stampanoni (right), Zhentian Wang and team

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