Mayor of London opens revolutionary radiotherapy machine
22 Nov 2016
A pioneering new type of radiotherapy machine funded by the MRC and opened today by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has the potential to transform the care of cancer patients by directing radiation even at tumours that move during treatment.
The MR Linac machine is the first technology to simultaneously generate magnetic resonance images and deliver X-rays – allowing radiotherapy to be adjusted in real time and delivered more accurately and effectively than ever before.
The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden are the first institutions in the UK to install an MR Linac machine, with the first patients due to be treated in the second half of 2017, initially through clinical studies in hard-to-treat cancer types.
The installation of the MR Linac was made possible by a £10m grant from the MRC to The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) as part of the Clinical Research Infrastructure Initiative, with additional support from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
The technology is set to set to make radiotherapy more effective and reduce its side-effects, by tailoring the radiation beam precisely to the patient’s anatomy during treatment.
It could be especially effective for cancers which move during radiotherapy or change position between scanning and treatment – for instance through breathing, bladder filling or bowel changes. Examples are lung, cervical, prostate, bowel and bladder cancer.
Physicists at the ICR and The Royal Marsden have been actively developing the technology for several years as part of an international consortium led by a team at Utretcht Medical Centre and the company Elekta, which makes the MR Linac, and MR partner Phillips.
The UK team’s initial findings, published in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology, have shown that it is possible to target radiation precisely at lung tumours with the MR Linac using real-time imaging.
The research shows that the system can be calibrated to deliver X-rays accurately in the presence of the distorting magnetic field used to generate MRI images – overcoming a key scientific challenge.
The purpose-built treatment suite containing the MR Linac, based in the Radiotherapy Department at The Royal Marsden, will continue to be used to develop the technology ahead of the first clinical studies later next year.
As well as the MRC funding for the MR Linac project, scientists were also funded by Cancer Research UK for much of the preparatory research.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “It’s a great honour to be involved in officially opening the MR Linac radiotherapy system. This truly ground-breaking device is the first of its kind anywhere in the UK and has the potential to transform the care that cancer patients receive. The MR Linac will give patients access to the most cutting-edge treatment available, which could help to save lives.
“The fact that The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden are among a select group of international centres developing this pioneering technology really underlines the fact that London is at the forefront of advances in medical research and innovation.”
Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “The MR Linac is our flagship project in a programme of research to apply state-of-the-art technology to create smarter, kinder forms of radiotherapy.
“We believe the new system can revolutionise treatment by delivering beams of radiation precisely to tumours, even as they shift slightly in the body cavity, and so avoid potential harm to healthy tissue.
“We’re delighted at The ICR and The Royal Marsden to be one of the first centres in the world to have access to this technology, and extremely grateful for the support of the MRC in making it happen.”
Dr Declan Mulkeen, Chief Science Officer of the MRC, said:
“This was part of a £150 million UK-wide initiative to bring state-of-the-art experimental technologies into UK medical research. The MR Linac collaboration is a great example of a partnership across excellent academic research, charities and industry to drive the development of new ways to diagnose and treat disease.
“It’s this multidisciplinary approach which has helped make the UK a leader in clinical research.”
Watch a film that explains who MR Linac works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKLuj3ulEZg