Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Microbeam of light for tumour patients

Radiotherapist Katherine Russell treats a patient.

Collateral damage: A patient is treated with conventional radiotherapy. Scientists are working on a more focused treatment. Photo: Justin McManus

For five minutes most days, a small part of Sophie's* brain is zapped with a beam of high-energy X-rays.

So far she has experienced few side effects from the radiation therapy she receives at a Melbourne hospital, following surgery to remove an aggressive brain tumour three weeks ago.

But each time Sophie receives radiation, her face covered with a special mask, the 42-year-old hopes the beam is hitting its target.

Radiotherapist Katherine Russell treats a patient.

Game changer: Radiotherapist Katherine Russell treats a patient using microbeam radiation therapy. Photo: Justin McManus

''When you're having your brain zapped, you're hoping it's not doing any more damage than you've already had,'' she said.

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Sophie is one of thousands of people - about one in two cancer patients - whose tumours are irradiated each year.

Given the high number of patients who need the treatment, a team of Melbourne clinicians and scientists at the Australian Synchrotron are developing an experimental radiation therapy that better targets cancer cells while reducing the damage to the healthy surrounding tissue.

A scientist involved in the project, Peter Rogers, said while conventional radiation therapy was effective at killing tumour cells, some normal tissue was also damaged as the X-rays entered and exited the body. Professor Rogers said while the experimental technique, known as microbeam radiation therapy, was still several years away from humans trials, its unique features were ''a game changer'' for radiation therapy.

* Not her real name.

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