A team of researchers led by radiotherapy physics expert Professor Peter Metcalfe is on track to further improve how radiation therapy is delivered to cancer patients.

Professor Metcalfe,  from UOW’s Centre for Medical Radiation Physics (CMRP), with a cross-institution team and the support of a Cancer Council NSW project grant ($427,195), is pursuing a world-first radiation dosage system that will improve treatment for patients battling cancers that are generally difficult to target.

Speaking to the Illawarra Mercury following an announcement by Cancer Council NSW about its support for the project, Professor Metcalfe explained that an improved delivery system will allow doctors to check radiation doses in real time and will work in conjunction with an MRI-linear accelerator that allows specialists to view tumours and surrounding healthy organs as treatment is administered.

“One of the problems with current therapies is that tumours may move slightly during treatment, as the patient breathes for example,’’ Professor Metcalfe said.

“An MRI-linac enables you to follow the tumour during treatment, and now we are developing novel detectors to check the dose distribution on those machines.

“This means we can target the tumour better and reduce the radiation field sizes so we’re sparing all the other organs.’’

Tumors affecting the lungs, the oesophagus, rectal tissue, or the cervix, are just some of the cancers that Professor Metcalfe has described as tricky to treat and that could be better targeted. An improved delivery system, which would also benefit those battling breast, pancreatic, liver or kidney cancer, could also result in fewer required doses – five doses of radiation instead of 25 to 30, according to Professor Metcalfe – as well as a decrease of the impact of side effects for patients. 

Working alongside Professor Metcalfe to achieve all of this is  Distiguished Professor Anatoly Rozenfeld, Director of the Centre for Medical Radiation Physics (CMRP), and Dr Marco Petasecca, a researcher at CMRP, which is part of the School of Physics at UOW.

The Centre is focused on developing semiconductor detectors and dosimeters for clinical applications in radiation protection, radiation oncology and nuclear medicine. 

The research  project team also includes: Dr Lois Holloway and Dr Gary Liney, research physicists at the Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research at Liverpool Hospital (NSW); Professor David Thwaites from the University of Sydney; and Dr Brad Oborn from the Illawarra Cancer Care Centre. 

Funding for the study is being provided by Cancer Council NSW as part of a major push to support what it has called “groundbreaking cancer research”. Fifteen projects were awarded a total of $6 million by the Council at its annual Research Awards event on March 1, this year, in Sydney.

“We are excited to be able to fund pioneering new ways to treat cancer – our project grant recipients are all extraordinary scientists who do essential and highly innovative work,” Dr Jane Hobson, Research Grants Manager at Cancer Council NSW, said.

“Many of the research teams we have funded this year are world leaders in their domain, and are positioned to rapidly translate their findings into practice. We look forward to seeing the results of this vital research,” Dr Hobson added.

Professor Metcalfe has said that working with Cancer Council NSW really brings home for him the importance of this current project.

“You feel a real responsibility when you’ve got a grant from Cancer Council NSW because you’ve seen the women and men doing Daffodil Day and Relay for Life. They’ve really worked their butts off to raise this money, so you’d better do some good work.”