Radiotherapy will enter a new era with a machine that combines imaging and treatment functions in one package

Cancer-killing scanner to be tested in UK hospitals

Two UK hospitals will receive a unique machine capable of scanning and killing cancer at the same time.

The machine, called MR-Linac, combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with tumour-busting radiation treatment.

There are only seven such machines currently in the world with the latest two being delivered to cancer centres at hospitals in Surrey and Manchester.

Experts say the machine could open a new era in highly-personalised radiotherapy.

"It's extremely important for the success of radiation therapies that we can see what we want to treat at the time of the treatment, not diagnostic images which are basically reflecting the anatomical state a few days or weeks before the treatment," said Profesor Uwe Oelfke, from the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

"With MRI you can constantly monitor the patient while the patient is being treated and adapt the dose precisely to the individual patient.”

As the patient’s internal anatomy could change from day to day, being able to see how exactly his or her insides look like at the moment of the treatment will help not only improve accuracy but also reduce the damage to the surrounding healthy tissue, thus limiting side effects experienced by the patient.

An early trial of the machine will start at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, Surrey, early next year. The trial will involve about two dozen patients with tumours affecting different parts of the body including brain, head and neck, lung, oesophageal, pancreatic, breast, prostate, cervix and rectal cancers.

The results of the studied group will be compared with a control group of patients receiving standard radiotherapy.

The patients, who have not yet been recruited, will be among the first in the world receiving the innovative treatment.

"The UK will play a central role in the development of this new technology for the treatment of cancer," said Professor Kevin Harrington, joint head of radiotherapy and imaging at the Institute of Cancer Research, London.

A Government grant of £9.6m funded the purchase and installation of the machine at the Royal Marsden.

The award formed part of a £230m investment package in UK science handed out by the Medical Research Council.


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