Communications and Marketing

The direct way from MRI to radiation treatment

No. 66a | 18/12/2014

For the first time this year, the Roland Ernst Foundation for Medical Research awards a €5000 prize for interdisciplinary radiological research. The award will be presented to scientists from the Research Program “Imaging and Radiooncology“ of the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) for an excellent cross-departmental project.

from left: Heinz-Peter Schlemmer, Florian Sterzing, Roland Ernst, Asja Pfaffenberger and Tilmann Bostel
© Tobias Schwerdt/DKFZ

This year‘s award winners are Dr. Tilmann Bostel and Asscociate Professor (PD) Dr. Florian Sterzing from the Clinical Cooperation Unit Radiation Oncology and Dr. Asja Pfaffenberger from the Division of Medical Physics in Radiation Therapy. They will receive the award in recognition of their cross-disciplinary project on MR-guided radiotherapy planning.

In a cross-disciplinary collaboration, the two physicians Bostel and Sterzing and physicist Asja Pfaffenberger have developed a positioning system that makes it possible to transfer patients directly from an MRI device to a linear accelerator (LINAC) where they receive radiation treatment.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is considered an ideal imaging technology to plan radiation therapy, to verify a patient’s position immediately before radiation treatment, or to document the course of radiation therapy. MRI attains much better soft tissue contrast than commonly used computer tomography (CT) and additionally does not involve radiation exposure.

To date, experimental hybrid devices that combine LINAC and MRI exist only in two places in the world. However, they are not being used yet to treat patients. The shuttle system developed by the three award-winning scientists will now make it possible to transfer patients directly from an MRI device to a neighboring radiotherapy unit without repositioning. The system guarantees that the patient's position remains exactly identical throughout imaging and irradiation. This makes it possible to localize tumors and healthy tissue very precisely over the whole treatment period in order to adjust radiation therapy individually if the tumor has shifted since the last treatment or if its size has changed.

“Close collaboration across various disciplines has always been a characteristic of our Research Program,” says coordinator Prof. Heinz-Peter Schlemmer. “Radiologists, nuclear medicine specialists, radiation therapists, medical physicists, chemists and computer scientists are all collaborating closely here to address medically relevant issues. And thanks to our excellent precision engineers, we can even produce our own prototype devices if needed.”

This cross-disciplinary collaboration is also the prerequisite for the Roland Ernst Prize, whose statutes require a cross-departmental project that should also have the potential for translation into clinical applications.

Established in 1980 by Heidelberg construction entrepreneur Roland Ernst, the Roland Ernst Foundation supports medical research, particularly the DKFZ Research Program “Radiological Diagnostics and Therapy” (now: Imaging and Radiooncology). In addition, the foundation also sponsors art and culture projects.

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institute in Germany. At DKFZ, more than 1,000 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. The staff of the Cancer Information Service (KID) offers information about the widespread disease of cancer for patients, their families, and the general public. Jointly with Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ has established the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg, where promising approaches from cancer research are translated into the clinic. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center is an important contribution to improving the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.


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