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Nuke Lab To Help Develop X-Ray Equipment

October 5, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Scientists at a government nuclear weapons lab will soon be working on new X-ray equipment to improve the detection of breast cancer.

The equipment will be developed under a $3.28 million agreement between the Energy Department and a Colorado manufacturing firm. The research and development deal is scheduled to be announced Wednesday.

The company will finance $2.4 million, while the agency will contribute $880,000, government and company officials said.

The joint venture between Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California and Fischer Imaging Corp., of Denver is the latest in an attempt to use the scientific expertise and knowledge at government weapons laboratories for commercial and civilian benefits.

Last week President Clinton announced a plan for a broad research and development effort between the government laboratories and the domestic auto industry to try to develop a cleaner, more fuel efficient car.

While the deal with the auto companies is likely to be long-term, the joint venture involving Lawrence Livermore at the University of California at Berkeley and Fischer Imaging may produce a payoff within a few years, said Morgan Nields, the company’s chairman.

Under the agreement, Fischer Imaging will work with scientists at Livermore to develop so-called digital X-ray technology for use in detecting breast cancer.

The digital equipment would provide better image quality, require less radiation dose, and allow detection of smaller tumors, officials said.

The weapons laboratories have used the digital technology for some time for nondestructive testing and evaluation of nuclear warheads, laser weapons and other defense-related hardware.

But the defense-related technology has one drawback: A single machine may cost millions of dollars, far too expensive to make it applicable for widespread commercial uses.

But the task for the government scientists working with Fischer Imaging will be to adapt the technology so its cost is competitive to the 12,000 current, conventional X-ray machines now in use.

Nields said a conventional X-ray machine costs about $75,000 and he hopes to market a digital version for ″two to three times″ that amount. The digital version would be cheaper to operate.

″Our goal would be that we have this product ready for FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval in 1994,″ said Nields.

Clint Logan, the mammography project leader at Lawrence Livermore, suggested such a timetable may be overly optimistic. He estimated it may take three years to resolve technical problems and another two to obtain FDA approval.

Digital mammography uses electronic radiation detectors to capture the image created by X-rays passing through the breast.

A converter changes the X-ray energy to visible light. While a conventional X-ray machine captures the images on film, the digital system allows it to be viewed directly on electronic displays similar to a home computer.

Nields say the image is much clearer with much greater contrast.

This will allow for better detection with fewer X-rays actually being taken, provide the ability to detect smaller tumors, and provide better detection for younger women whose breast tissue is more dense, he said.

″This is a breakthrough in the fight against an epidemic which has claimed the lives of so many of our grandmothers, mothers, aunts and daughters,″ said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

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