A radiation detector for inside the body

It was made for spacecraft, but the radiation detector can be used in cancer patients, too.

Tech Culture

CORK, Ireland--A radiation detector initially created to protect orbiting satellites has found a new purpose inside cancer patients.

The Tyndall National Institute--a scientific research institute and graduate school in Cork, Ireland--has come up with a radiation detector that fits inside an implantable medical device that measures how well radiation therapy is working. The FDA approved the use of the DVS (Dose Verification System) from North Carolina's Sicel Technologies last August for breast cancer and prostate cancer patients, said Brendan O'Neill, head of the central fabrication facility at Tyndall.

The DVS collects information about patients and then transmits the data to an outside system. It also gets its power externally via its antenna. The device is designed to last as long as the treatment. Two detectors go into each DVS, said O'Neill. Sicel also makes an external version that is applied to the skin, called OneDose, that measures radiation from the most immediate dose of radiation.

The radiation detector module was originally created for the European Space Agency (ESA) to protect satellites from radiation, said O'Neill. The aerospace market, however, consists of only a few big customers so Tyndall decided to refashion its chips, reduce the size, and cut the costs to fit into another market.

It's part of an effort by the Irish government to create a homegrown tech industry. For the past few decades, multinational companies such as Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft have come to the country to take advantage of a low 12.5 percent corporate percent tax rate. That's far lower than the usual E.U. tax rate, which can range in the 30 percent range, according to Gerard O'Brien, senior development adviser for Enterprise Ireland, a government organization charged with building local industries.

Initially, the multinationals primarily built fabrication and assembly facilities, but over the years have begun to increasingly locate design centers, research labs, European headquarters, and other so-called higher value facilities.

But the rapid evolution of the tech industry in Asia prompted a change in tech policy about five years ago. Now, the government is actively trying to get entrepreneurs to form indigenous start-ups and is priming the process by funding research, investing in venture funds that will invest in Irish companies, and trying to encourage more tech education. Tyndall, for instance, was created in 2004 out of an earlier organization, and one of its primary goals revolves around commercializing laboratory research locked inside the nation's universities and technical institutes. (The other major goal revolves around producing more PhDs, who the government hopes will stay in the country.)

The effort is in the early stages and the results of these programs likely won't be known for a while. "We haven't seen a high level of activity yet, but it has only been five years that we have been pumping money into research at this scale," said Michael Grufferty, the director of industry and innovation at Tyndall.

Still, there have been a few interesting things cropping up. Last year, Motorola invested in Anam, which has created an application for conducting money transfers via cell phones over international borders. It is targeted at the growing immigrant community here. Galway's Porto Media, meanwhile, is coming out with a kiosk that lets you download movies onto a flash memory key. (In the biggest tech deal here in a while, Ireland's Airtricity, which specializes in wind power, got bought by a Scottish utility for over $1 billion earlier this year.)

Other interesting projects at Tyndall:

• Paul Galvin is working on a handheld microelectricalmechanical system that can rapidly scan a person's DNA for susceptibility to different diseases.

• An array of silicon micro-needles that can penetrate a person's skin, but not hit the nerves. The result is, ideally, painless shots.

• High frequency diodes that will be used on the ESA's mission to study the planet Mercury in 2013. It may be possible to integrate cheaper, similar versions of these diodes into solar panels, according to Donagh O'Mahony, a research scientist at Tyndall.

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