Work progresses on installation of MR Linac machine to revolutionise cancer treatment

30th September 2015

Work is gathering pace on installing a pioneer machine that will revolutionise cancer treatment.

The Royal Marsden Hospital site in Sutton, Surrey, is one of only two locations in the UK and seven in the world that will house the MR Linac, a breakthrough in radiotherapy technology that both scans and treats cancer at the same time.

The multi-million MR Linac machine combines two technologies for the first time – an MRI scanner to precisely locate the tumour and a linear accelerator that will accurately deliver doses of radiation even to moving tumours.

The project is a collaboration between The Royal Marsden Hospital and The Institute of Cancer Research after we successful secured a £9 millin grant from the Medical Research Council.

Professor Uwe Oelfke, Head of the Joint Department of Physics at both organisations, has eloquently explained the problem the device is aiming to tackle.

He said: “We face the immense challenge of trying to hit an invisible target with an invisible beam.”

For example a tumour in the lung will move as people breathe and a tumour in the prostate could move from day to day depending on what the person has eaten and how full their bowel is.

The MR Linac will open up a new era of more personalised medicine. Being able to view highly detailed MRI images of a radiotherapy target will allow far more accurate treatment and avoid damage to nearby healthy tissue and reduce side effects.

As Professor Oelfke said at a recent press conference about the MR Linac: “With MRI you can constantly monitor the patient while treatment is taking place and adapt the dose precisely to the individual. This will allow a truly new practice of personalised radiation therapy.”

An early trial at the Royal Marsden to demonstrate the MR Linac machine’s safety and effectiveness involving two dozen patients is now in the planning stage. As Joint Head of the Division of Imaging and Radiotherapy at the ICR, I am working closely in this project.

Patients with cancer tumours affecting different parts of the body will be recruited, including brain, head and neck, lung, oesophageal, pancreatic, breast, prostate, cervix and rectal cancers. They will be among the first in the world to use the machine.

Later studies will compare outcomes from cancer patients given standard radiotherapy and those using the MR-Linac.

The MR Linac is a hugely exciting development in the treatment of cancer with the potential to directly benefit patients at our hospital and across the NHS.

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