CLEMSON, South Carolina — Medical Beam Laboratories LLC, a company recently formed by researchers from Clemson University’s Medical Physics lab, has been awarded the InnoVision Award for Technology Development for its work in advanced robotic radiosurgery.
The annual award honors one company in South Carolina that has developed a novel technology for commercial or internal purposes.
Medical Beam Laboratories, started in 2015 by physics and astronomy doctoral student Donald Medlin and professors Endre Takacs and Mark Leising, is developing an innovative radiosurgery device to obliterate cancerous tumors quickly, precisely and at a fraction of the cost of current treatments.
Physics and astronomy research associate Leon Zheng provided an incomplete design for the device back in 2015, launching the group’s collaboration and leading the creation of the company, which is also known as Beam Lab.
Medlin, the CEO of Beam Lab, said he and his team weren’t expecting to win the award at the InnoVision awards dinner last month.
“We showed up to the dinner wanting to network and make connections with other companies, but we weren’t really expecting to compete with companies like Milliken,” Medlin said. “So we get there as a relatively unknown startup company with a new technology and ended up winning, and that was really awesome.”
Given that InnoVision is the premier organization for technological advancement in South Carolina, winning one of the eight InnoVision Awards is an honor for a company. Previous winners of the Technology Development Award, such as Milliken, a global manufacturer of chemicals, floor covering and performance materials; and Proterra, known around the Upstate for its zero-emission buses, have been bolstered because of their InnoVision Awards.
“We’re really grateful to InnoVision for recognizing our technology,” Medlin said. “I think it brings a lot of attention to South Carolina, and Clemson University, as well, because most people in the medical device industry are in Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle. It really highlights the exciting technologies being developed at Clemson University, which could bring more attention to technological development in our state.”
The company’s award-winning device is intended to improve cancer outcomes for people and also for their four-legged friends.
“Normal radiotherapy techniques use a broadband X-ray spectrum that cannot focus radiation as well as our device,” Medlin said. “In veterinary applications, the average pet that receives radiotherapy requires 19 fractionations, or sessions, to remove a tumor. So the owner must take the dog or cat in every day for almost a month to get the total amount of radiation necessary.”
Beam Lab’s device uses 26 pencil beams of well-defined gamma radiation, which can eliminate a tumor in one to three fractionations.
“The beams are all targeted at the tumor volume and they rotate around the patient so that they’re entering at different angles. This reduces the dose spillage outside of the tumor volume and minimizes the damage to the surrounding healthy tissue,” Medlin said.
The precision and effectiveness of the device is based on three novel advancements in radiosurgery:
- Cobalt-60, an element used as a source of radiation;
- A series of holes that can be indexed to customize the size of the radiation beams; and
- A rotating treatment head that stands out against typical, static radiosurgery devices.
An image guidance system is included in the design to monitor the tumor’s position in real time, ensuring that the radiation beams don’t stray from their tumor targets.
Computer simulations, akin to those used by particle physicists at the Large Hadron Collider on the border Switzerland and France, have validated the device’s abilities up until this point.
Beam Lab is currently producing its first device, which will be used for human applications in Europe beginning in fall 2018. They’re also fundraising to launch the first radiosurgery device designed and optimized for veterinary applications, which they hope will be piloted by a qualified veterinary hospital in Greenville. The Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF) has patented the team’s technology, and licensing agreements are presently under way.
Data compiled from both veterinary and human applications will provide the foundation for Beam Lab as the company seeks FDA approval for their device. Medlin said he hopes to have a radiosurgery machine available for domestic hospitals by 2020.
He credits the South Carolina Research Association (SCRA) for providing startup funds for the technology; and Takacs, Zheng, and Leising for spearheading the idea with him.
“When I came to Clemson, my intention was to finish my physics education, and along the way I hoped I would figure out some idea that could be used practically, that others could benefit from,” Medlin said. “The stars aligned the day I met Dr. Takacs, and I was able to achieve the goal that I had for myself from the beginning.”