Micro-X (ASX:MX1) shares have hit a more than three-year high after the Brisbane-based portable imaging company announced it was in line for an $8 million grant to develop a lightweight brain CT scanner that could be used to diagnose strokes in road and air ambulances.

Quick treatment of ischemic stroke is crucial for preventing permanent disability or death. A drug known as a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) can break the blood clot down and allow blood to resume flowing to the brain, but since the treatment could also kill a patient it is only begun once a diagnosis is confirmed with a CT brain scan or MRI.

While the Royal Melbourne Hospital has pioneered a mobile stroke ambulance – the first in the Southern Hemisphere – the CT scanner still fills the entire van.

“Micro-X’s vision is to use its unique technology to create a low-cost CT scanner of equivalent performance with no moving parts, compact enough to be mounted in any ambulance,” Micro-X said.

The global market for such an in-ambulance brain scanner is estimated at $25 billion, Micro-X said, noting that a permanently disabled stroke victim can easily cost healthcare systems up to $150,000 per patient per year.

The company plans to work with partners including Fujifilm in Japan, John Hopkins University in Baltimore, the Melbourne Brain Centre at Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Royal Flying Doctor Service in designing the device.

Professor Geoffrey Donnan AO, co-chief investigator at the Melbourne Brain Centre, said that lightweight, portable and affordable brain CT imaging was the next frontier in stroke care.

“The tyranny of distance is a huge barrier — if you have a stroke in rural or remote parts of Australia, you are up to twice as likely as city stroke survivors to be left with a serious, lifelong disability.”

Morgans healthcare researcher Scott Power called the funding announcement “very good news” for Micro-X and a “key milestone” for the medical device manufacturer, which has already commercialised on a mobile X-ray “rover” wheeled vehicle and is working on miniature airport luggage scanners and a portable bomb scanner.

At 10.40am, MX1 shares were up 9.3 per cent to 41c.

Other projects funded

The grant is part of $100 million in funding for medical research technology that Health Minister Greg Hunt announced on Friday.

Quick stroke care is receiving a total of $40.2 million in grants, including the $8 million for Micro-X, with the balance going to fund lung scanners for children and an artificial intelligence-based clinical decision platform for treating epilepsy.

Medical device companies 4D Medical (ASX:4DX) and EMVision (ASX:EMV) also both requested trading halts on Friday to announce details of grant funding applications, but had not yet released details by Monday morning.

4D Medical is working on lung imaging, while EMVision is also developing a portable stroke scanner.