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The huge hole in the ground that is set to revolutionise radiotherapy

02
Oct
2015

Dr Claire Bithell visited the site of our revolutionary new radiotherapy machine - the MR Linac.

Posted on 02 October, 2015 by Dr Claire Bithell

Behind the leafy streets of Sutton lies a building site which will soon house a revolutionary new type of radiotherapy machine, the first of its kind in the UK. The machine, known as an MR Linac, combines a state-of-the-art radiation machine, known as a linear accelerator, with an MRI scanner.

The machine will allow clinicians to precisely locate tumours, tailor the shape of X-ray beams in real time, and accurately deliver doses of radiation even to moving tumours. The new MR Linac will allow UK researchers and clinicians here at The Institute of Cancer Research and our partners The Royal Marsden to be among the world’s first to offer this pioneering form of radiotherapy to patients.

We got to visit the building site on the ICR’s and The Royal Marsden’s Sutton site this week to see where the project is up to. Excavation of the huge bunker has been completed, and is big enough to fit 24 Routemaster buses. 

MRLinac Bunker, 2015

The facility will house the MR Linac, supporting equipment, patient areas and a small laboratory. Soon the area where the MR Linac machine will sit will be covered with wood supports in preparation for a concrete roof – and the views seen here will be obscured.

Professor Uwe Oelke, Head of the Joint Department of Physics at the ICR and The Royal Marsden, is one of the experts leading on the project, and it will be his team who help set up and calibrate the equipment. Before patients can be treated, Professor Oelfke and his colleagues at the ICR will test out the equipment thoroughly. This work will not only benefit patients in the UK, but is part of an international research collaboration to move forwards the use of MR Linac machines in cancer treatment.

Professor Uwe Oelfke on the site of theMRLinac

The new MR Linac facility will be joined up with the current Royal Marsden radiotherapy department. Patients will walk through from the existing radiotherapy facilities, and the breakthrough in the current wall to allow this will happen soon.

MRLinac Building Site, 2015

Once the site is ready, the MR Linac will be transported to Sutton in individual parts that can be fitted together onsite. Delivery is set to take place in stages between January and March 2016, and the equipment will be lifted into the new building by crane through a specially built skylight.

The project has enormous potential, as Professor Oelfke describes: “The MR Linac will allow us to constantly image the tumour during radiotherapy and allow us to adapt the treatment in real time. This would be a truly new practice and we would be entering into a new era of personalised radiotherapy.” 

But before this can happen, the building has to be erected and prepared, and the new machine delivered and installed. So there is much work to do for the engineers, builders, architects, scientists and clinicians who are coming together to make this innovative project possible. Also important is a close working relationship with Elekta, developer of the pioneering radiotherapy system, and Philips, the MRI technology provider, and the Medical Research Council who funded the project.

While this project is still in its infancy, the future for radiotherapy is looking brighter than ever. Keep an eye on our blog for regular updates on our progress.

  • Visit our MR Linac page for more information relating to this project

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