A cervical cancer survivor and her twin daughters who are alive thanks to modern imaging technology today helped launch a new £13 million facility set to further improve cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Darth Vader actor David Prowse, who recently finished treatment for prostate cancer, also supported the launch of The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust’s new initiative.
The Cancer Research UK and EPSRC Cancer Imaging Centre at the ICR is expected to help scientists diagnose cancers earlier, get a better understanding of how tumours develop and ultimately could speed up the process of new drug development.
The first major stage of this £13 million initiative is a state-of-the-art Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner – co-ordinated through the Wellcome Trust and with funding courtesy of the Medical Research Council, The Wolfson Foundation and the National Institute for Health Research - which is now ready for use on patients involved in clinical trials at the ICR and The Royal Marsden Hospital site in Sutton.
Trials already planned for the machine involve patients with prostate, brain, cervical and breast cancers.
Cancer Imaging Centre co-director Professor Nandita deSouza says the scanner is essentially a very powerful magnet that will allow doctors to see what is happening inside the body in much greater detail.
“The new scanner will allow us to get a better picture of the shape as well as the behaviour of tumours,” Professor deSouza says. “I am greatly excited about the potential of this equipment. It will hugely improve our ability to detect and diagnose cancer and to determine if drug treatments are working.”
Cancer Imaging Centre co-director Professor Martin Leach says the powerful 3T scanner will be able to catch small, early-stage tumours that were previously undetectable with the older-model 1.5T scanner. The technology will create precise pictures of tumours in the body, allowing treatment to be accurately targeted to cancer cells.
“We can then use the scanner to watch how new drugs affect the cancer, allowing us to assess how patients are responding to treatment,” Professor Leach says. “This could ultimately speed up the process of developing new cancer drugs.”
Mother-of-three Michelle Stepney, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer while pregnant with twins, is proof of the benefits such technology can bring.
Professor deSouza used advanced MRI technology to work out precisely how far the cancer had grown and confirmed that the surgery could be delayed long enough for Mrs Stepney, 36, to carry Alice and Harriet to term.
Mrs Stepney received limited chemotherapy during her pregnancy to stop the cancer spreading and had a hysterectomy four weeks after delivering the twins in December 2006.
David Prowse, best known for acting in the original Star Wars films, has also thrown his support behind the new Cancer Imaging Centre after being treated for prostate cancer at The Royal Marsden from January until March this year.
“I was well cared for and my treatment was a success, but not everyone diagnosed with cancer is as lucky as me,” Mr Prowse says. “I am very happy to support this initiative, which should ultimately help other people survive a cancer diagnosis.”
The new facility – one of four large imaging centres being established across the UK – will ultimately include a range of new equipment including a magnetic resonance tissue scanner and a specialised ultrasound scanner.
It will ensure the ICR maintains its position as a world-leader in cancer imaging research, and that patients will immediately benefit from new advances through the unique partnership with The Royal Marsden.