Swiss and African investors have pledged more than $14.4 million (14 million CHF) to startup Pristem SA in the development of lower-cost X-ray scanners capable of operating in any location.
Initiated by the EssentialMed foundation, a Swiss nonprofit, a project called GlobalDiagnostiX aims to bring imaging to low-income countries that generally lack the necessary infrastructure.
"I'm delighted to see the great enthusiasm for this project among the scientific, student and now investor communities,” Klaus Schönenberger, the director of the EssentialTech program, which is heading the project, said in a statement. “This shows that we share the same vision of universal access to essential technologies, particularly in the medical field.”
Two-thirds of the world’s population lacks any access to medical imaging, according to the World Health Organization, preventing diagnosis and treatment for a range of conditions, from injuries incurred in road accidents to tuberculosis. Further burdening this issue is the surge in healthcare costs, of which medical imaging procedures make up a significant proportion. The purpose of the project is to change this by introducing a high-quality system that provides services to markets worldwide at lower total costs for both the solution itself and life cycle management tasks such as commissioning, maintenance and training.
The machine will be designed with a robust and economic design, constructed of of mechanical, solid and stainless constituents and capable of resisting harsh tropical climates as well as high temperatures, humidity and dust.
It will also utilize a radiographic image sensor based on an array of twelve CMOS sensors that are available at moderate costs, are easy to replace, and the images from which are composed by the scanner's software. It will provide services to markets worldwide at lower total cost, which includes both the machine itself and all aspects of its life cycle such as commissioning, maintenance and training.
In addition, the machine will be equipped with a power module that will provide up to 150,000 volts for operating an X-ray emitter without overloading the hospital's network, the total consumption of which is often lower in developing countries than a single X-ray machine.
Other features include an examination stand designed to avoid any electrical controls; the flexibility to move up, down, and turn to accommodate X-ray exams for various body parts; and a robust mechanism to oversee its performance and avoid errors that could lead to shocks or poor quality scans.
As a spin-off of the EssentialTech program, Pristem SA will introduce the technology to the market in the next two years once it has recruited specialist engineers to join the more than 100 researchers, clinicians, engineers, technicians and students throughout Switzerland and Africa currently collaborating on the project.
The University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Western Switzerland (HES-SO) and its advanced engineering school is one such party involved, and has devised a preproduction prototype with the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), which runs the EssentialTech program.
"I am particularly pleased that the startup we spun out of the program has attracted Swiss and African investors, because this shows that it's possible to combine social impact with an attractive business model,” Schönenberger said. “Switzerland, with its technical and scientific skills, its quality-focused culture and its openness to the world, has what it takes to improve global access to essential technologies. At the same time, this is creating a whole new set of economic opportunities."
A full-functional prototype was introduced in March 2015 at Lausanne, Switzerland.
The project falls in line with the objectives of the EssentialTech program which aims to develop necessary technologies to alleviate the challenges of poverty and vulnerabilities worldwide.
The preproduction prototype will be presented to the public on October 29 in the presence of federal councilor Johann Schneider-Amman, at an event organized by HES-SO.