RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — My wife Lynda went to Rex Hospital on Thursday morning for a mammogram. When I told her about the new technology demonstrated by ZumaTek at InfoTech 2005, she was eager to hear more.

Obviously, other women and people who know how big a threat breast cancer is to women liked what they saw as well, too. ZumaTek was named the winner in voting by the 650 attendees for the conference’s “People’s Choice” award. (Field2Base, a developer of impressive applications for wireless data, finished second.)

Conventional mammograms are not comfortable, any woman will tell you. I’ll let them explain the details.

Suffice it to say that ZumaTek’s emerging alternative is comfortable — and, its founders believe, will deliver more precise results in detecting possible breast cancer.

“So far, things are so good,” said a smiling Martin Tornai, an associate professor in nuclear medicine at Duke who launched the company. Tornai, who holds a PhD, licensed the technology he developed at Duke for the creation of breast imaging technology that creates a 3D image.

Women rest on a table face down, so there is no compression of the breast, and they do not have to remove any clothing. The ZumaTek device, which Tornai described as a “miniaturized CT scan”, creates a 3D image of the breast in “digital slices”.

“You can better see the structure that may indicate cancer,” he said. It’s Tornai’s belief that the ZumaTek technology will be more effective in detecting cancer at its earliest stages when it is most treatable. (As literature from The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation distributed at ZumaTek’s booth shows, the average lump in a breast found by the first mammogram is already 0.59 inches in size — about the width of a dime.)

Combined with nuclear medicine that is used to highlight potential tumors, Tornai said the ZumaTek device can help physicians select areas “that you want to biopsy.”

More precise information about the cancer could also “have a therapeutic impact”, he added, because physicians and radiologists can better see how treatment is progressing.

A further benefit, Tornai added, is that the device “produces a cumulative dose of radiation that is one half that of a mammogram. We want to push it even low, to 10 times lower.”

Research about the device has been accepted and will be presented at a major conference early next year, Tornai added. He has also been approached by numerous surgeons and plastic surgeons who are interested in the device.

Sheila Mikhail, who also runs Life Science Law, has signed on to be the chief executive officer for ZumaTek. The company was launched in May. Its technology, however, is already patented.

“The long-term plan is to eventually replace mammography as we know it,” he said confidently. “We are far ahead of others in the field.”

R. Brooks Malone, an attorney with Hughes Pittman & Gupton who led the selection committee for picking InfoTech presenters, said he liked what he saw in ZumaTek.

“I see ZumaTek has having a real impact on society,” Malone said.


Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.