A company founded by a University of Bristol academic is pioneering a new technology that has the potential to revolutionize cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Co-founded by University of Bristol Research Associate Dr Tom Wallace-Smith, Astral Systems has developed and demonstrated a first-of-its-kind Multi-State Fusion (MSF) Reactor which can be used to create vital medical isotopes.
These isotopes can be used for killing cancer cells in radiotherapy and as radioactive tracers in the body to help spot medical conditions through imaging.
A UK Government report in 2017 showed that six fission reactors create more than 90 per cent of the world’s medical isotope supply, and that all but one of these will shut down by 2030.
However Astral Systems' compact MSF Reactor offers the potential to secure the supply of these medical isotopes and in turn, improve patient outcomes.
The company aims to build small fusion reactors that could be installed in regional isotope factories around the UK and internationally, providing cheaper radioactive samples on a more flexible timeline.
Talmon Firestone, Co-Founder and CEO of Astral Systems, and visiting Fellow at the University of Bristol explained: “Nuclear medicine has been helping to save lives for decades by enabling the medical profession to scan for cancer and directly treat tumors and cancerous cells at source.
"Our systems have been developed far more quickly and can produce isotopes at a much smaller scale than alternate technologies. This means medical isotopes can be produced near to or within hospital hubs without having to rely on giant international nuclear fission plants.
“This will dramatically increase the diagnostic and treatment techniques available to clinicians; reducing hospital wait times and costs while improving the quality of care.”
Co-founder and CTO of Astral Systems Dr Tom Wallace-Smith first theorized how a multi-state fusion reactor could work after learning of NASA’s pioneering work on lattice confinement fusion, published in 2020.
Tom was introduced to businessman and scientist Talmon Firestone who has significant experience in the nuclear, space, and defense industries, and together they formed Astral in 2021.
Later that year the University of Bristol was awarded a £1 million research grant in partnership with Astral Systems and the Science and Technologies Council (STFC) to optimize and support commercialization of their technology while also demonstrating medical radioisotope production. This project named ‘MicroNOVA’ is led by Professor Thomas Scott, the Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Fusion Energy.
Dr Wallace-Smith said: “Not only does our MSF Reactor provide a mechanism to develop medical radioisotopes safely and more efficiently, it offers an ideal testbed for understanding what a full-scale fusion power plant will look like and how it might behave during operation.”
Earlier this year Astral completed a £200,000 research contract with the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to set up their fusion reactor facility at the Dorset Innovation Park to undertake fusion materials research. The technology is operational and ready for sale now.
Astral Systems are currently on SETsquared Bristol’s incubation program, supporting them to grow through their bespoke program of business support.