Wellington based technology company Matakina is taking on breast cancer at home and around the world.
Matakina has developed image-processing software – called Volpara. The software is robust enough to be used with any existing breast imaging system but its key point of difference is that it measures breast density.
This is vitally important because it is now generally recognised that the risk of breast cancer is four to six times higher in women with very dense breasts. Traditional methods of breast screening are less good when it comes to detecting potential issues in women with very dense breasts and with Volpara these women will now be able to elect to have further detection tests that could save their lives.
Awareness of how big an impact breast density has on detection rates is a global issue. California has recently dedicated August 8 to raising awareness about breast density. Calling it “Are you Dense?” day, the state is putting a humorous spin on a very serious issue.
Matakina was established by four of the world’s leading experts in breast imaging after meeting at a radiology conference in Chicago and realising they had the combined skills to make a real difference to the lives of women at risk from breast cancer. Basing the company in Wellington meant that they were able to access a growing pool of world-class talent in the image-processing field due to the regions ability to attract the best in screen and digital talent from around the world. Wellington’s compact and collaborative nature means spill-overs across industries can generate outstanding results.
Access to investment and support from organisations such as Grow Wellington and Innovation and Science investment (through the Ministry of Business and Innovation) was also a key factor in basing the company here.
Volpara has now been sold to sites across the U.S., South Korea and Malaysia but the biggest success story for Volpara to date has been in Europe. In the Netherlands, some one million women are screened every year using mammography. Volpara is going to be used to select a subset of that population for additional screening using breast MRI. The scale of the project requires Volpara to be available across the Netherlands and is a major IT and scientific undertaking.
Locally, The Auckland Breast Centre, supported by the radiologists at The Radiology Group, have been trialling the software for the last month and are taking it on in a permanent basis from later this month. To mark this development, Dr John Hood, Matakina’s non-executive chairperson will be visiting the centre to watch Volpara in action. Dr Hood is one of New Zealand’s most prominent and successful expats, he has served as the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, as the Chairman of the Rhodes Trustees (having been a Rhodes scholar himself) and numerous other world leading business, engineering and academic organisations.
Matakina is excited about the future, not only for Volpara but for the other technologies the company is developing. “Volpara is already clinically proven in the U.S., we are extremely confident that the Dutch are going to find it very beneficial to their program and now it’s great to see Kiwi technology being used to potentially save lives at home. With one product in global use, we can now use that base technology to build far more advanced products and that is very exciting indeed.”