Medical Physics Spinoffs Continue to Benefit Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin - The announcement March 7 that TomoTherapy Inc., a Madison producer of sophisticated cancer treatment equipment, was sold to Accuray, a California maker of equipment for radiation surgery, spotlights the economic impact of the Department of Medical Physics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
As Wisconsin confronts a continuing unemployment crisis and struggles to create manufacturing jobs, the department has spawned businesses to treat cancer, detect osteoporosis, ensure radiation safety and improve the detail on medical images.
UW-Madison medical-physics inventions are being used to diagnose and treat patients around the world.
Many inventions have been licensed to the giants of medical electronics: GE Healthcare, Siemens and Philips Electronics.
As TomoTherapy shows, some of the most successful spinoffs have been sold.
The hundreds or thousands of Wisconsin jobs that the department has created reflect the university's longstanding expertise in medicine, radiation and physics, as well as the explosion in the use of radiation for diagnosis and treatment.
Since the department was formed in 1980, medical physics has grown into a department with 30 faculty members, 27 academic staff, and 134 graduate or postdoctoral students. The successes include:
Radiation Safety and Quality Assurance: In 1974, medical physicist John Cameron founded Radiation Measurements Inc., one of the first makers of devices to test the accuracy of X-ray machines. In 1987, RMI was purchased by Gammex Inc., a Middleton maker of equipment for aligning patients during x-rays, and quality control products that maintains ties to the medical physics department. About 60 employees at Standard Imaging, another Middleton firm with strong ties to medical physics, make quality-assurance products for health-care radiation machines.
Imaging Blood Vessels: Since it was introduced in 1980, a technology called digital subtraction angiography has become a standard method of measuring blood flow in arteries and veins. When X-ray images made before and after an iodine solution enters the bloodstream are compared, the result is a highly defined picture of the interior of the blood vessel. From the first, the technique had multiple advantages, says its inventor, Charles Mistretta, a professor of medical physics. "You did not have to go to the darkroom while the patient was waiting, and the rate of complications was slashed."
Radiation Treatment Planning: A company that made software for planning radiation therapy, formed by Mackie and three other UW-Madison staffers in 1992, was sold in 1996 and is now owned by Philips Medical. More than 70 employees in Fitchburg continue improving the software, which is used to plan and record about one-quarter of radiation treatments worldwide.
Osteoporosis Detection: Lunar, now a subsidiary of a Waukesha-based division of GE Healthcare, was started by Richard Mazess in 1980, based on technology he'd developed while a professor of medical physics. Lunar's scanners use two types of light to measure bone density and remain a world standard for diagnosing osteoporosis and monitoring treatment.
Date Published: 03/09/2011