"When I look back, I think my success has been down to the enriching environment and support that I had during my PhD programme at the University of Surrey."
My decision to study for a PhD in Medical Physics at Surrey was driven by my desire to do something about cancer care in my home country, Afghanistan. Since there is no radiotherapy treatment available there, cancer patients face a poor prognosis if they cannot afford to travel to neighbouring countries and pay for treatment.
During my PhD I focused on finding an alternative to commonly-used dosimeters (the devices used to measure cancer treatment radiation doses) in order to overcome their high cost and other limitations. I experimented with using glass jewellery beads as dosimeters and found that as well as being inexpensive, they also offer excellent performance.
In the final year of my PhD I started to do market research under the ICURe programme. I met and talked with potential customers, competitors and investors and realised the potential impact of the technology. As a team we developed a fully automated reader which would enable the technology to be used in a clinical environment and, with the support of the University, I applied for a patent for this.
In December 2014 I founded my company, TRUEinvivo Ltd, to commercialise the dosimeter. At the same time I started working at the Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, in order to have an income and become specialised as a clinical medical physicist.
Throughout the last four years I’ve maintained very close links with Surrey. I’m a visiting researcher and, for the past year, have taught part of the radiation biology module on the Medical Physics MSc course. Being closely connected to the University has had some great advantages. There’s been a lot of interest in my research and a number of final year undergraduates, MSc and PhD students have undertaken research projects on various aspects of the research. I’ve also collaborated with NPL (National Physical Laboratory), Royal Marsden, Royal Surrey County Hospital, Surrey’s clinical trial unit and international research groups in Australia, Italy, Malaysia and Iran.
One of my career highlights to date has been winning the government’s ‘Women in Innovation’ award for female entrepreneurs who take on the UK’s grand industrial challenges. This included funding of £50,000 which was a tremendous boost for TRUEinvivo. We’ve been able to employ a full-time engineer who began building a proof of concept earlier this year. We are now going through our second round of investment with a valuation of £3-4m, and have a contract with Morgan Innovation and Technology Ltd to build our working prototypes and complete the relevant regulatory approvals.
When I look back, I think my success has been down to the enriching environment and support that I had during my PhD programme at the University of Surrey. I had the opportunity to come up with my own idea and express my innovative thinking. My PhD project was not predefined and it was not like following a recipe. I had to evaluate my own strengths and think about what I could offer for the advancement of knowledge in this field with the available facilities.