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UK hospital to develop pioneering radiotherapy

New £9.6m machine will be able to deliver doses of radiation to moving tumours

Mark Gould

Friday, 24 October 2014

A partnership between the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden Hospital has won a £9.6m award to purchase one of the world’s most advanced radiotherapy machines and develop state-of-the-art treatments.

The MR Linac combines two technologies – an MRI scanner and a linear accelerator – to precisely locate tumours, tailor the shape of X-ray beams in real time, and accurately deliver doses of radiation even to moving tumours. 

The ICR says that combining the two technologies is a major challenge for physicists because X-ray radiation treatment is affected by the strong magnetic fields used during MRI.

The award will enable UK researchers and clinicians to be among the world’s first to offer this pioneering form of radiotherapy to patients with prostate, lung or breast cancer where tumours are more mobile. There are only seven such machines in operation worldwide.

Once fully developed, the ICR says the new system will enable more accurate targeting of tumours immediately before and during treatment. This will allow doctors to increase the radiation dose delivered directly to a tumour, and reduce side-effects by delivering a lower dose to surrounding tissues.

The award was announced by Chancellor George Osborne as part of more than £230m in new investment to UK science from the Medical Research Council. The application for the grant was a joint effort between the UK research partnership and Elekta, developer of the ground breaking radiotherapy system with Philips providing the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology.

The £9.6m award will purchase the MR Linac system and finance its installation in a new facility at The Royal Marsden. ICR scientists will develop the technology in a preclinical phase of research before clinicians at both organisations aim to begin treating the first patients in around three years’ time – initially through clinical trials at the new facility.

ICR interim chief executive professor Paul Workman, said: “Standard radiotherapy technologies usually require scans to be taken in advance of treatment, and are not able to account precisely for the movement of a tumour after scanning or during the course of treatment. The MR Linac aims to address this challenge by imaging tumours in real time during radiotherapy, and we are delighted to be one of the few centres worldwide to have access to this state-of-the-art technology.

“This pioneering programme of research will bring together scientists, clinicians and industry partners to develop an advanced form of radiotherapy that could meet vital areas of unmet need in cancer treatment – including in prostate, lung and breast cancer. At the ICR, a team of physicists and clinicians will take a leading role in enhancing the performance of the technology before its routine use in patients.”

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