Bristol academics launch business to tap into the power of fusion technology for cancer treatment

December 1, 2023

A Bristol business has developed a pioneering next-generation mini fusion reactor with the potential to revolutionise cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Co-founded by a research associate and a visiting fellow at the University of Bristol, Astral Systems has developed the first-of-its-kind multi-state fusion (MSF) reactor, not much bigger than a car engine, that 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 revealed that six fission reactors create more than 90% of the world’s medical isotope supply – and all but one of these will shut down by 2030.

Pictured: Astral System’s executive team, from left: Talmon Firestone, Dr Tom Wallace-Smith and Dr Mahmoud Bakr

Astral Systems’ compact MSF reactor – believed to be the smallest particle generator of its type in the world – offers the potential to secure the supply of these medical isotopes and so improve patient outcomes.

<The company aims to build next-generation compact fusion devices capable of being installed in regional isotope factories around the UK as well as internationally, providing cheaper radioactive samples on a more flexible timeline.

Astral Systems co-founder and CEO Talmon Firestone, who is also a visiting Fellow at the University of Bristol, said: “Nuclear medicine has been helping to save lives for decades by enabling the medical profession to scan for cancer and directly treat tumours 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.

Astral Systems co-founder and CTO Dr Tom Wallace-Smith first theorised how a multi-state fusion reactor could work after learning of NASA’s pioneering work on lattice confinement fusion, published in 2020.

He was then introduced to businessman and scientist Talmon, who has significant experience in the nuclear, space and defence industries. They formed Astral together in 2021.

Later that year the University of Bristol was awarded a £1m research grant in partnership with Astral Systems and the Science and Technologies Council (STFC) to optimise and support commercialisation of their technology while also demonstrating medical radioisotope production.

This project, named MicroNOVA, is led by Prof Thomas Scott, the Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Fusion Energy.

Tom 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 is currently on SETsquared Bristol’s incubation programme, which is helping the business to grow through its bespoke programme of business support.

Comments are closed.


Reach tens of thousands of senior business people across Bristol for just £120 a month. Email for more information.