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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 institution in Germany. More than 1,300 scientists at the DKFZ investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and search for new strategies to prevent people from developing cancer. They are developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to all questions on cancer.

Jointly with partners from the university hospitals, the DKFZ operates the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg and Dresden, and the Hopp Children's Cancer Center KiTZ in Heidelberg. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of the six German Centers for Health Research, the DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partner locations. NCT and DKTK sites combine excellent university medicine with the high-profile research of the DKFZ. They contribute to the endeavor of transferring promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improving the chances of cancer patients.

The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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