A FIRM producing world-leading three-dimensional (3D) imaging equipment has secured a £1m contract to develop an advanced system for breast cancer detection.

Kromek, based at NetPark science park, near Sedgefield, County Durham, has secured a four-year contract with the University of Massachusetts Medical School (Umass), to develop the system.

Kromek, a two-man spinout company from Durham University and formerly known as Durham Scientific Crystals, works on the use of 3D x-ray imaging for the medical, industrial and anti-terrorism sectors.

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Earlier this year Kromek bought Californian firm Nova R&D Inc, to help give it an increased foothold in the US market, and it will work with its subsidiary on the new contract.

Kromek, which now employs about 50 staff, said the new contract, funded through $4m (£2.5m) from the US National Institutes for Health (NIH), represented one of very few scientific programmes with the potential to dramatically improve the way in which breast cancer is detected and subsequently treated.

Although existing x-ray mammography has saved many lives, one of its limitations is that the recorded image represents a 3D object in a two-dimensional image, meaning it can be difficult to distinguish between normal breast tissue and tumours.

Kromek chief executive Arnab Basu said: “We are extremely excited by this contract’s potential to significantly advance clinical diagnostics in the field of breast cancer detection, and potentially way beyond.

“The programme is at an early stage, but to be working with Umass on behalf of the NIH is proof of the unique technological advantages Kromek and Nova offer, and the contribution we can make to improved detection systems in the medical field.”

Dr Stephen Glick, Professor of Radiology at Umass, said: “Umass is one of the world’s few research groups investigating the use of x-ray CT imagers for use in breast cancer detection and diagnosis.

“It was, therefore, essential that we selected an innovative and cutting-edge partner to join the programme.

“We are looking forward to working with both Kromek and Nova towards a solution that could change the way breast cancer detection is carried out for many years to come.”

The market for medical imaging is expected to reach £4.1bn by 2014.

Kromek is best known for pioneering an airport scanner that can identify liquids in bottles, including explosives, alcohol and narcotics, without opening them, in less than 20 seconds.

Nova specialises in the design, development and production of imaging detectors, sensors and systems for security, medical and industrial