Tim O’Meara, Regional Research Manager for GE Healthcare Australia and New Zealand

As a global medical technology company, GE Healthcare is constantly on the search for innovators. People or organisations who are inventing, or challenging existing wisdom with a view to improvement. Partners in transforming medical technology and solving medical problems.

We have collaborated with many organisations in many different parts of the world. This experience has taught us the ingredients required for successful innovation in medical technology.

These ingredients are:

  • A strong academic group with members from a range of disciplines, such as medicine, computing and engineering.
  • Significant Government support with realistic timeframes.
  • A start-up company with a focus on making a product, and some private investment.
  • A connection to a multinational who can engage early and take the innovation to a global market.
  • A health service willing to partner and innovate.

Christchurch’s medical technology sector has these elements. The Health Precinct strengthens the potential for success even further.

One good example of a Christchurch-based company we are working with, and who meets these innovation criteria, is Mars Bioimaging Ltd. This company is developing a revolutionary 3D colour spectral scanner. In the world of medical imaging, spectral imaging will be a game changer. Spectral imaging technology is a way of combining the advantages of traditional imaging, such as MRIs, with spectroscopy. Put simply, these next generation imaging machines will allow us to see inside the body in far greater detail, detailing the elements and compounds in a single scan.

Mars Bioimaging Ltd. is led by father and son Professors Phil and Anthony Butler, who invented the MARS scanner. Phil Butler is a physicist at the University of Canterbury; his son Anthony is a radiologist and Professor at both the Universities  of Otago and Canterbury. The team they have gathered around them to develop the project includes biologists, computer engineers, technology experts, doctors and students.

We recognised the invention’s potential early on and have been working with the MARS team for a number of years. In 2014 we signed a partnership agreement to work together on developing medical imaging technology. The MARS team are well-supported by both private and government grants, such as multi-million dollar support from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise, who recognise the potential of the technology – in medicine, and also in other industries such as scanning people and baggage for security at airports.

The University of Otago, Christchurch, is a leader in medical research with close proximity and connections to the Canterbury DHB and its clinicians. This means the technology is being tested against rigorous scientific standards, and the clinicians who will ultimately use it have input into its development.

To play its part in the evolution of this technology, GE Healthcare donated one of its state-of-the-art CT scanners, the kind being used in hospitals around New Zealand and the world, to test the MARS against. The scanner will also be used by local universities in their medical research.

Our relationship with the MARS team first focused GE Healthcare’s attention on Christchurch. We have since developed further relationships and see it as a thriving centre for invention, collaboration and ultimately in the development of technology that will improve and extend people’s lives.