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Cancer therapy

New radiation technology emerges in Alberta

EDMONTON – A new cancer radiation therapy machine, promising precise and life-saving treatment methods, will be developed in Alberta following a substantial funding boost.

The federal government has announced a $2.5-million investment to support Alberta Health Services, the University of Alberta and industry take the next crucial steps towards developing, testing and commercializing cancer radiation therapy technology called Magnetic Resonance Real-time Guided Radiation Therapy (MRrtgRT).

The technology is a world-first and has the potential to significantly improve the quality of radiation therapy for cancer patients in Alberta and internationally.

Cross Cancer Institute Medical Physics Director Dr. Gino Fallone (pictured) and the research team beat the rest of the world to do what was previously considered impossible: they built a working prototype in 2008 that combined existing medical devices – a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and a linear accelerator (LINAC) – a pairing previously thought to be incompatible.

The technology has the ability to produce high-quality, real-time 3D images showing exactly where a tumour is and guide radiation to it in real-time. This allows radiation beams to focus on a moving target – such as the lungs, liver, stomach and pancreas – and reduce the amount of radiation delivered to surrounding, healthy cells. It has the potential to also broaden the range of tumours that can be treated using radiation therapy.

“We believe this technology will provide our patients with one of the best integrated cancer treatment options available in the world,” Fallone says. “It could revolutionize the way cancer patients are treated around the world.”

The funding will allow the project research team to move to the next stage: a human scale machine, which will be constructed and tested onsite at Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute. Once this has been successfully completed, the project will move onto its third stage, a pre-production prototype for clinical trials, and then eventually commercial distribution. If the project continues as planned, it will be ready for commercial distribution in about six years.

Fallone will continue to work in partnership with Senior Medical Physicist Brad Murray and the associated research team at the Cross Cancer Institute and University of Alberta’s Department of Oncology to move the project forward.

In addition to federal funding from Western Economic Diversification, the Government of Alberta is investing $250,000 towards the initiative, while the Alberta Cancer Foundation is contributing $2.15 million. AHS and its industry partners, ASG Superconductors and Paramed, are contributing $1.1 million.

“Our government’s investment towards this initiative will help transform western Canadian health research into marketable medical technologies that generate new economic opportunities and jobs, while also improving patient care for countless individuals,” says Leona Aglukkaq, Federal Minister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, on behalf of Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification.

“Alberta’s talented medical researchers continue to develop products that save lives worldwide,” says Gene Zwozdesky, Minister of Alberta Health and Wellness. “Thanks to the collaborative efforts of our many partners in health and innovation, Alberta cancer patients will be among the first to benefit from a unique and innovative technology developed right here at Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute.”

Funding is directed towards the purchase of a MRI scanner. Costs also include renovations to the vault where the prototype will be housed, engineering and construction designs, and contractors and manpower required to build a full-scale prototype. AHS is giving selected components in good working order from a soon-to-be decommissioned linear accelerator to the project.

Posted August 25, 2011