University of Leicester eBulletin

Space Age Solutions to Age Old Health Problems

April 2002
No 89

Precision techniques developed in the field of space research and applied to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer by the University of Leicester have received a prestigious “Discipline Hopping Award” from the Medical Research Council.

The University’s BioImaging Unit at its Space Research Centre has won an award of £49,094 to investigate the use of solid state detectors developed for X-ray astronomy in diagnosing breast and vulvar cancers.

X-ray sensitive Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs) allow better detection and location of tumours, melanomas and other small lesions in the body.   The new detection technique will also be used for imaging thyroid and skeletal joints.

The new system – The High Resolution Gamma Imager (HRGI) - will have superior spatial resolution and excellent energy resolution and therefore potentially may provide a generic, low cost, high performance complement to the whole body imaging Gamma Camera, currently universally used in cancer diagnosis.

Dr John Lees, University of Leicester BioImaging Research Fellow, said: “This award with our colleagues in the Leicester Royal Infirmary will enable us to test our imager in a real clinical environment. It is very exciting to think that detectors developed for space may help in the fight against cancer”.

The University of Leicester BioImaging Unit was established in 1999, growing from research into X-ray cameras for the NASA Chandra X-ray satellite, carried out by Professor George Fraser and Dr John Lees.

Joint research by physicists and biologists is on the increase and the University can justifiably claim to be at the forefront in the field of technology transfer from physics to other disciplines.  This is the second time the Unit has won a “Discipline Hopping” Award from the MRC.

Note to editors:   Further information is available from Dr John Lees, Senior Research Fellow BioImaging Unit, University of Leicester, Space Research Centre,  telephone +44 (0)116 252 5519, email

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