Success Story

Breast cancer strikes more women in the United States than any other form of the disease - killing more than 40,000 women each year. However, the first line of defense against this disease, mammograms, are not very good at differentiating benign from malignant growths and are difficult to interpret for women with dense breast tissue due to age, scarring or genetics. New technology developed at Jefferson Lab is being used to complement mammograms in cases where they are inconclusive, aiding doctors in more accurately diagnosing breast cancer. The basic technology is called nuclear functional imaging, or scintimammography and researchers in Jefferson Lab's Detector Group began exploring its use as a tool for imaging breast cancer in the late 90s when they looked for ways that detector technology developed for nuclear physics might be used for benefits outside science.

In 1997, two local businessmen decided to license Jefferson Lab's nuclear imaging technology for use in Breast-Specific Gamma Imaging (BSGI). They procured investor funding for and set up a fledgling company, which they named DilonTechnologies, Inc. Dilon and JLab signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), working together to adapt the Detector Group's technology and engineering it into a compact, user-friendly system that could be easily integrated into breast imaging centers. Although faced with numerous setbacks due to the attack on September 11, an economic downturn and the medical establishment's reluctance to gamble limited resources on a new technology, the company finally sold its first production unit, the Dilon 6800, to a private clinic in Las Vegas in September 2004. Since then, Dilon has sold their cameras around the world to diagnostic centers and continues to work with Jefferson Lab on new technologies.

CRADA Outcome

The gamma imaging technology developed at the lab was licensed to a high-tech start-up company, Dilon Technologies, Inc. in Newport News. Using the technology, Dilon produces a device known commercially as the Dilon 6800 Gamma Camera.

The Dilon camera uses breast-specific gamma imaging, a molecular imaging technique that has proven to be an effective tool in the differentiation of malignant and benign tumors. Better than its predecessor, scintimammography, BSGI relies on the advanced imaging technology of anatomic-specific detectors to detect early-stage cancers. The compact detector developed by Jefferson Lab captures vital tumor information by viewing the metabolism of cancerous lesions in the breast via radiopharmaceutical uptake. Prior to the development of this specialized camera, the size and performance of large general purpose gamma cameras used to perform scintimammography and other general nuclear medicine applications was not well suited to imaging the breast.

Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI) is saving lives. Using MBI as an adjunct to mammography results in an almost fourfold increase in invasive cancer detection in women with dense breast tissue. MBI has a higher specificity than MRI and has proven to reduce benign biopsies by 50%. With a negative predictive value of 98% MBI is the beacon in dense breast tissue. More than 250,000 patients have been screened with BSGI/MBI on a worldwide basis.

This achievement was recognized in 2009 with an FLC Technology Transfer Award. More information on the Dilon Camera can be found at In April of 2011 the Department of Energy named Dilon Diagnostics a top national innovator based on this successful transfer of technology.

In addition to the success with BSGI, Dilon and Jefferson Lab continue to collaborate on new applications for detector technology advances.