Health scanning business grows out of cancer survivor's personal battle
A new business launched by two Exeter women with a passion for health is aiming to give people more control over their own well-being. Business editor Liz Parks reports.
Since undergoing treatment for breast cancer herself and watching her five-year-old daughter, Billie, battle a brain tumour, Exeter businesswoman Terri Bainbridge has undertaken a huge amount of research into health and well-being.
As well as being convinced that most people do not know enough about the things that can affect their health, she and business partner Lisa Portman believe that medical services put more of an emphasis on treatment rather than prevention.
As a result, they set up thermal imaging company Thermalogica in February with the aim of providing an extra tool to help people to take responsibility for their own health.
The technology uses digital infrared thermal imaging with a camera to detect heat in order to measure the physiological activity, creating a map of the infrared patterns of the body. Still relatively new to the UK, DITI is widely established throughout America and some parts of Europe where it is used as an aid for the diagnosis and prognosis of various health conditions including strokes, heart disease and cancers.
The non-invasive scans, which don't emit radiation, can also help people who have picked up an injury and want to monitor their recovery. At present, the technology is available at around 20 centres in the UK. Although it is used by the NHS, particularly in the early diagnosis of diabetes, many people are unaware of its existence.
Inspiration for the business has come from Terri's own experiences of cancer and her belief that there is more that people can do to help themselves with their health. Two years ago, she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer at the age of 39. While undergoing chemotherapy her four-year-old daughter, Billie, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and the 'Billie Butterfly fund' was launched to fundraise for her treatment in America and research into the disease, raising nearly £400,000.
Despite this, Billie passed away last summer shortly after her fifth birthday. Following her operation Terri was advised that a large tumour found, which had not shown up on the mammogram, had probably started growing in her mid-twenties.
Her subsequent research into this disease led her to thermal imaging which specialises in early disease detection throughout the whole body and, although not yet widely available in the UK, it is extensively used in America for breast screening.
"When I found a small lump in my breast I was back and forth to doctors, I had a mammogram and a biopsy and then had a breast removed. They found a large tumour and I was absolutely shocked because I had presumed that a mammogram would show what was there. I started doing my research on the internet about what else I could have done. I wanted to know more about how you could tell if a lump was normal or a problem. Mammograms don't start until you're aged 50. I heard of thermal imaging and I thought 'this sounds fascinating, why don't more people know about this?'"
Thermalogica offers a number of screening packages including upper or lower half body; full body screening as well as monitoring specific parts of the body such as the breasts or areas with an injury. Unlike X-rays, ultrasounds and mammography that show the structure of the body, thermal imaging can detect subtle physiological changes that can lead to an early diagnosis.
Thermal images are taken by Terri and Lisa who are both trained as clinical thermographers, before being sent via a secured server to doctors who are trained in the methodology of reading and interpreting thermal images. A full medical report is then produced by the doctors with images archived in a secure database and future scans are compared to the earlier images to monitor any changes over a period of time.
"Thermal imaging is set apart from any other health screening tool and can show signs of disease such as diabetes before it would be detected from a blood test and potential cancer up to eight to ten years before it shows on a mammogram. Having supported Terri over the past two years, we decided to create a company that could bring Harley Street technology to the South West without the London price tag," said Lisa.
Terri and Lisa grew up in Cornwall, having met at college 26 years ago. Both left the South West to start working in London in 1989 where Terri worked in advertising and Lisa in the music industry. Terri set up her own ad agency and film production company, Quiet Storm, with her ex-husband Trevor Robinson before they split up 12 years ago and she moved to Exeter to start a new bar and club, Amber Rooms, before going on to invest in property.
Lisa worked for several large record companies, until 2002 when she started working for Mick Jagger as his business manager, a role that lasted eight years and saw her accompany the music legend around the world before she decided to find a more regular job. As well as focusing on the possible health benefits of thermal imaging, Terri has also become passionate about more general health and wellbeing as a result of research she undertook to find out more about her own illness and Billie's.
"We can do a lot more, people don't think to look after themselves. The NHS is brilliant and having spent time in America, what we have got here is amazing, but it's not preventing an increase in cancer and diabetes. If people knew the damage that things like sugar and carbonated beverages do to themselves then they would change what they put into their bodies," she said. "I'm keen for people to start looking after themselves and doing health scans especially with breast cancer, people think 'if I'm going to get it I'm going to get it' but there's an amazing amount that people can do."