A Brigham Young University alumnus is working to innovate X-ray systems to bring radiology and imaging capabilities to the point of care.
Clark Turner enrolled in BYU’s chemistry department in 1979, graduating with a bachelor’s degree six years later. In 1991, Turner graduated with his PhD in analytical chemistry from the same university.
While working toward his PhD, Turner was hired on as a laboratory engineer with Signetics, where he worked for seven years before he accepted a position as the Chief Technology Officer at MOXTEK in 1992.
Turner remained with MOXTEK for 12 years before founding Aribex, where he became the principal inventor of the NOMAD handheld X-ray systems.
He came up with the concept of a handheld X-ray in 2004 when his dentist told him he was joining a humanitarian mission and needed a portable dental X-ray machine. Turner used the conversation as inspiration to develop the first hand-held, battery-powered temple X-ray.
Now, these X-ray units are taken on thousands of humanitarian missions and used in dentist offices worldwide. Aribex was built around the invention, and Turner fulfilled the position as CEO and chairman of Aribex before the company was purchased by Danaher Corporation in 2012.
He used the proceeds from the sale of Aribex to found Turner Ventures in Orem. The company is an independent, privately held physical and life sciences investment firm that funds companies through angel investments.
He also operates a research and development company by the same name, Turner Innovations, which is working to bridge the gap between fundamental research and the commercialization of technologies based on research.
With his new company, Turner developed the Smart-C Mini-C Arm Portable Fluoroscopy and X-Ray Imaging Device.
The company received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration in October, and not long after, the device was showcased at the world’s largest medical exhibition in Germany and at a Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago.
The 16-pound, battery-powered device can be hand-carried to the point of care and does not require cords to operate. The device is specifically made for extremities, such as ankles, wrists and fingers.
Until the latest device from Turner Innovations, the standard mini C-arm device weighed in at around 400 pounds, he said. The development of that device took over five years and millions of dollars.
Turner said it took so long for healthcare innovators to begin to move away from the refrigerator-sized portable units because of “a lack of out-of-the-box thinking.”
“Nobody had really sat down and said, ‘How do we fundamentally change the way we do radiography?’ ” Turner said. “We’re not entrenched in the current equipment, so we could start with a blank sheet of paper. It’s a matter of looking at the problem with fresh eyes rather than from their current paradigm.”
Turner’s goal was to make a device that was portable enough to be used in sports medicine or to be used by the military in the field.
Turner said outside of the portability, he also knew the device had to be able to at least perform at the same standard as current hospital systems so they could be placed in surgical centers, as well.
“For me, personally, it’s a matter of being able to provide imaging at the point of care,” Turner said. “The ability to take radiology into the field is what we’re trying to improve, and it’s really what differentiates us from the competition.”
The first unit Turner Innovations placed was with BYU’s football team, so it could be used to assess injuries on the sidelines of games and practices.
Since then, Turner Innovations also has been working with administrators at Revere Health to get a unit placed in the surgery center in American Fork. Eventually, Turner said, he would like to have his devices brought to the scenes of car collisions and other high-risk incidents.
Now, Turner Innovations has entered into a five-year Master Reseller agreement to provide a portable fluoroscopy X-ray device to hospitals and military personnel across the United States.
With the agreement, Siemens Healthineers has become the premium partner reseller to the hospital market and will focus on delivering the Smart-C to hospitals, integrated delivery networks, group purchasing organizations and military customers in the U.S.
Turner said the company had just finalized the agreement with Siemens Healthineers when the coronavirus pandemic shut virtually everything down.
“Our sales representatives had just started doing demos for the hospital systems, and the doctors loved it, (but) because of COVID-19, they’re not spending anything except (for) coronavirus-related equipment,” he said.
There are three major X-ray systems providers in the United States: General Electric Healthcare, Philips Healthcare and Siemens Healthineers.
Up until the agreement was finalized, Turner said Siemens Healthineers did not have a mini C-arm in their portfolio and were looking to secure a device that would fill that hole. That is when Siemens Healthineers discovered Turner Innovations.
Once Turner Innovations has the opportunity to get traction in the U.S. market, Turner said there are plans to offer the Smart-C Mini-C Arm internationally.
Turner said the Orem-based company also is working on a second-generation device that would be higher-powered for spine and chest X-rays. If successful, Turner said the second-generation device would help hospitals look at the inflammation in the lungs of patients exposed to COVID-19.