The windmilling turbines of an aero engine and a device the size of a mobile phone may seem worlds apart, but they are both landmarks in the career of Dr Mark Reeves, founder of MRA Technologies.

The Oxford company has two business strands, consultancy to clients researching medical devices and the development and sale of accessories used in medical X-rays.

Dr Reeves’ early years were spent using optics and lasers to test and calibrate first Rolls-Royce aero engines, and then vehicle engines. A step-change occurred when he moved to the orthopaedics research department of Edinburgh University.

He worked with large pharmaceutical companies on clinical trials of orthopaedic devices, both internal and external, which supported limbs during healing.

At the end of each trial, limbs had to be X-rayed in exactly the same position, and Dr Reeves engineered cradles and holders to place limbs correctly.

In 2004, he relocated to Oxford, working with former colleagues at Oxford Lasers, whose products he had used in the past. He co-developed a high-speed photography system to characterise the spray patterns of inhalers.

Used by asthma sufferers and others, the ‘puffers’ look simple, but must deliver a precise amount of the drug to the intended target, avoiding dosing other tissues.

Particle size, speed and the angle of the spray pattern are critical to efficacy and safety. All new inhalers must be tested in this way.

Dr Reeves founded MRA in 2006. He offers specialist consultancy to companies researching and developing medical devices, covering fields such as diagnostics, drug delivery and renal dialysis.

For two years, he has advised a local company on a real-time device that finds and shows veins.

Many people, such as the elderly, drug addicts and the obese, can suffer vein shrinkage. Shock, too, can trigger the problem.

Injection for such patients can be very difficult, unless the doctor or nurse is highly experienced. Anaesthetists, who hone their skills daily, are often called upon when all else fails.

The vein-finder is slightly larger than a mobile phone, and moving it round the limb will show a clear picture of veins. Current vein finders use ultrasound and are so costly, they are frequently shared among departments. The size — and more particularly the price — will make the new device far more affordable.

Dr Reeves is understandably reticent about details of the technology involved, but said the finder is scheduled to go on the market within a year. Meanwhile, some initial work with a multi-national to engineer sub-assemblies for renal dialysis machines has translated into the design and development of a new generation of smaller, simpler machines.

Renal dialysis began in the 1980s, saving the lives of those who would otherwise die from kidney malfunction.

The present machines are large and complicated. Allied to that, UK and US healthcare provides dialysis in hospitals and clinics, with only between one and three per cent of patients receiving treatment at home.

Contrast that with Australia, where 25 per cent are dialysed at home. Part of that is linked to Australia’s scattered communities, but part is a culture of home treatment.

The UK and US model places strains on the system, allowing patients only three cleansing operations a week.

Dr Reeves said: “That’s not really the answer. The treatment is aggressive and can lead to complications such as fluctuations in blood electrolytes. Plus, the patient has a very short window in which he or she feels completely well. The rest of the time, they feel sluggish, tired and ‘hung over’.”

He is pioneering a machine which uses a disposable cassette to carry out the major functions. Small enough to be used at home, or even taken on a plane, it will allow gentler treatment at home, better quality of life and even holidays to those presently locked into a hospital schedule.

The second string to MRA’s bow proves that good ideas need not be complicated. Radiographers need to X-ray patients in awkward positions, such as on a trolley when there is a suspected neck or spine fracture.

Holding the X-ray cassette in the correct, vertical position is difficult. Dr Reeves has solved the problem with two grooved vertical nylon pillars with magnetic feet.

The pillars sit on a thin steel sheet. The cassette is secured between the pillars, then sheet and pillars are manoeuvred into position, the thin gauge steel making it easy to fit below a stretcher or mattress.

Another device, a 30mm steel ball in an articulated holder, allows orthopaedic surgeons to gauge accurately the right size for a replacement joint.

The ball is included in the joint’s X-ray. Measuring the ball’s diameter on the X-ray indicates how much the film has enlarged, or reduced, the true image.

o Contact: MRA Technologies 01865 339354. Web: