Boston University spin-off building low-cost PET system

August 16, 2000

The first commercial spin-off to come out of the Boston University Photonics Center is gearing up to move into clinical trials of its proprietary PET system. PhotoDetection Systems of Boston, founded in 1998 by BU physics professor William Worstell,

The first commercial spin-off to come out of the Boston University Photonics Center is gearing up to move into clinical trials of its proprietary PET system.

PhotoDetection Systems of Boston, founded in 1998 by BU physics professor William Worstell, plans to use $2.75 million netted in its first round of venture capital funding to move out of the Photonics Center business “incubator” and into a 10,000-square-foot facility in Acton, MA, and begin developing smaller, more practical versions of its lab-sized PET system.

PET imaging has some advantages over CT and MRI scans for cancer detection because it provides information about metabolic processes. However, the high cost of PET scanners—around $2 million each—has limited the technology’s adoption.

Worstell and his colleagues at PhotoDetection Systems hope to change that. The technology underlying the new PET system was developed by Worstell while he was at BU and licensed to the company, which plans to release three basic product configurations—a whole-body PET scanner for less than $1 million, a body-region scanner for less than $600,000, and a smaller version that can scan a fist-sized area for less than $300,000.

Key to the lower cost of the PhotoDetection technology is the patented detector design. While at BU, Worstell developed a very high resolution detector with embedded wavelength-shifting fiber optics. Each detector is actually a stack of thin layers of scintillators, which detect the gamma rays, each with a series of the wavelength-shifting fibers across its face.

By building the detectors in layers, the PhotoDetection System enables more precise detection of the positrons. In addition, the thinner scintillator layers are less expensive to produce (PhotoDetection Systems buys them from a factory in Ukraine), which means lower overall manufacturing costs.

“Our technology dramatically improves the resolution and sensitivity of PET images at a significantly lower cost,” Worstell said. “It will enable more clinicians to detect smaller lesions earlier, thereby improving the survival rate of many patients.”

PhotoDetection Systems has built a proof-of-concept lab-sized detector and plans to spend the next year building a complete ring of coincident detectors to demonstrate the expected performance capabilities. The first human images are expected to come in mid-2001, and the company hopes to gain FDA clearance and launch its first PET system commercially in 2002.