Posted: June 15, 2016
There’s precious few changes in this world that, in a few minutes, can have a transformational impact.
But this is one of them, and in cancer treatment, no less.
Dr. Gino Fallone and Brad Murray, medical physicists at the Cross Cancer Institute, have figured out how to do something that was heretofore impossible.
Say you have a cancerous soft tumour that the oncologists say is best treated by radiation.
Right now, you have an appointment for “imaging” – being stuck inside a CT and an MRI. The technicians use the Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to determine as precisely as possible where the tumour is in your body, its size, etc.
And then you’d go back for a second visit, in a separate room, for the actual radiation treatment – a medical linear accelerator firing its killer beams at the tumour, using the coordinates supplied from the previous imaging visit.
Why two separate occasions? Because the two finicky machines just don’t like each other. The least amount of radio waves – from a cell phone or TV broadcast, throws magnetic resonance images out of whack. That’s why MRI machines operate in specially designed and shielded rooms that block all possible interference. Linear accelerators, on the other hand, pour out waves that an MRI can’t handle.
The problem is that tumours, especially in the body cavity – the abdomen, lungs,etc. – slip around when nobody’s looking. One big sigh, for instance, can shift a lung tumour several centimetres.
Until now, doctors have had to accept that, because of the delay between imaging and treatment, some healthy tissue around the targeted tumour was going to get damaged, with all the attendant side-effects and consequences.
Fallone, Murray and their research team have found a way to combine a medical linear accelerator and an MRI machine into one machine.
Using rotating MRI magnets and other moving parts, the linac and the imaging remain stationary in respect to each other, even as they move. The radiation beams somehow slip through to the target without upsetting the imaging process.
Which means the docs, using MRI images in real time, can continuously adjust the radiation beam to hit only the tumour, no matter how often it shifts.
It’s not like all this has happened overnight. Murray and Fallone applied for patents over 10 years ago and have spent years and years working on creating a prototype that uses existing equipment in different ways.
“It was back in 2008 when we did our first trials,” says Fallone. “It worked. And the first time I saw the MRI rotating, without falling apart … I was amazed!”
A spin-off company, MagnetTx Oncology Solutions, has been created and has secured worldwide exclusive rights from Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta to carry the project forward to commercialization.
Even with the assistance of the University of Alberta, TEC Edmonton, Alberta Health Services, the Cross Cancer Institute and numerous research grants, the road to commercialization is long and rocky.
There’s only one possible competitor currently being developed in Europe by big medical device companies. The duo are convinced they have the better machine.
But it will still take many more millions of dollars in upfront capital to reach the point of being a successful commercial entity capable of assembling and installing the Aurora RT ™ machine in hospitals around the world.
“After three or four years of reports and consulting with TEC Edmonton, we came to the conclusion that the best way to move the project forward was by forming MagnetTx Oncology Solutions,” says Fallone “We believe we can be cost competitive.”
The good news is the prototype should soon be approved for use on real people patients may be able to advantage of the magnificent new irradiation precision offered by the very first Aurora RT™ sometime in 2017.