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Physicists Team up to Focus on Cancer



Thursday 14 July 2011



Scientists from leading London research centres met this week to discuss new ways to help cancer patients by combining their strengths in physics, clinical activities and basic research.


Clinical and research physicists from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust met with counterparts from Imperial College London to find ways to turn the latest advances in physical science into applications that will improve diagnosis and treatment of cancer.


Professor Steve Webb, Chairman of the ICR and The Royal Marsden’s Joint Department of Physics, says: “Traditionally there has been somewhat ad-hoc interaction between medical physicists and non-biomedical physicists. This initiative brings together some of the leading researchers in their fields, and it’s clear from our discussions that it could lead to some really exciting and innovative collaborations in the future."


The long-standing partnership between the ICR and the The Royal Marsden has seen some notable successes, including pioneering work in intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), a method which improves cancer targeting by limiting the dose to surrounding organs. In 2007 the teams reported the first randomised trial of IMRT in breast cancer.


The ICR’s Chief Executive, Professor Alan Ashworth, believes the event will lead to further innovations in cancer care. He says: “This meeting was a great success. The potential for combining our strengths with Imperial College London creates a significant opportunity to accelerate our progress in the fight against cancer. Not many people are aware of the crucial role physics has played in cancer treatment. Around forty per cent of cancer survivors have received radiotherapy, so this is a hugely important focus of our research.”


Professor Jo Haigh, Head of the Department of Physics at Imperial College London, says: "Physicists at Imperial are involved in many fields of cutting edge research, many of which have applications for biomedical sciences. In particular, we have demonstrated how subjects like laser therapy, imaging/tomography, accelerator development, new materials and ultrafast lasers, can play key roles in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers, or in the understanding of cell damage mechanisms.


"This meeting was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about how our research can help develop new technologies for clinical applications. I would say we are now in an excellent position to share knowledge and build on our existing relationships with colleagues at The Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust."



Media Contact: ICR Science Communications Manager Jane Bunce on 020 7153 5106 or after hours 077217 47900

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 90 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
  • As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
  • The Institute of Cancer Research’s Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit (ICR- CTSU) is an academic clinical trials unit accredited by the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) to conduct clinical trials into cancer treatments. The department is funded by an infrastructure grant from Cancer Research UK.
    For more information visit


The Royal Marsden hospital

The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world’s first hospital dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education.

Today, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), it is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe treating over 44,000 patients every year.  It is a centre of excellence with an international reputation for groundbreaking research and pioneering the very latest in cancer treatments and technologies. The Royal Marsden also provides community services in the London boroughs of Sutton and Merton and in June 2010, along with the ICR, the Trust launched a new academic partnership with Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex.  


Imperial College London

Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.

In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.


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