Thunder Bay start-up helms new approach to breast cancer diagnosis and treatment

Radialis is Thunder Bay’s newest medical imaging device company, taking its place in Ontario’s $10-billion medical device manufacturing industry. Launched in February 2016, the company is poised to create leading-edge Positron Emission Mammography (PEM). PEM is an exciting alternative to traditional breast mammography, because it uses molecular imaging—detailed pictures of what is going on inside the body at a cellular and molecular level. (See “Top benefits of PEM,” right for more details.)

Local collaboration and community support have been an essential element in the company’s success to date. Radialis completed the first “proof of concept product” (which demonstrates the concept has real-world applications) in August 2016. They used equipment and support at MI-Zone, the advanced manufacturing initiative at the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre, to build the prototype cart for the Radialis equipment. The company plans to continue using the equipment at MI-Zone and the expertise of Kam Valley Industries, a design and manufacturing firm and MI-Zone’s operating partner, as well as work with other local producers like Infinity Metal Fabrication and Design. “Using local manufacturing capacity allows Radialis to innovate and adjust quickly, and speeds up the development process,” notes Sasha Bubon, Chief Technology Officer at Radialis.

The initial testing of the proof of concept product was completed using isotopes manufactured by the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute’s cyclotron—a significant cost savings, as producing isotopes locally costs a fraction of what it would cost to order them from another facility. Next steps: first, develop the functional prototype, and then the first clinical system, with a target date of late 2017.

Radialis was founded in partnership with Lakehead University and is grounded in research conducted by Dr Alla Reznik, Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute-Lakehead University Canada Research Chair. The company has leveraged business support from the Centre for Imaging Technology Commercialization (CIMTEC), MaRS Innovation, Thunder Bay’s Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) and the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre.

“This type of start-up company is a natural fit for Thunder Bay,” says Bubon. “It harnesses the research and development capacity at the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute, the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and Lakehead University, and engages with the local manufacturing assets in our community.” The image is clear: the future is bright.


Top benefits of PEM 

Positron Emission Mammography (PEM) can detect an extremely small tumour (as small as 2mm, the size of a head of a pin), based on its chemical and biological processes. The advantages? Earlier detection of cancerous tumours than traditional mammography, better imaging in dense breast tissue than X-rays, and a more comfortable experience for patients because it simply requires the breast to be immobilized rather compressed as it is in a traditional mammogram.

The mandate of Radialis is to develop PEM imaging systems specially designed to require a lower dose of radiation, making PEM safer for younger women who have a higher risk for breast cancer who may need to be tested more frequently. As well, medical staff will be better able to monitor how the tumour responds to treatment by checking the metabolic activity of cancer cells.