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On the search for “customised” radiotherapy

(Vienna 26th March 2012) Over the course of several weeks of radiotherapy treatment, tumours can change not only “spatially” in terms of position and volume, but also in terms of their “biological” properties. The new Christian Doppler Laboratory for Medical Radiation Research in Radio-Oncology, headed up by Dietmar Georg at the MedUni Vienna, will be looking for ways to visualise these changes in order to allow patients’ radiotherapy regimes to be customised.

The CD laboratory was officially opened on Monday, 26th March. The opening was attended by Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner, Rector of the MedUni Vienna Wolfgang Schütz, Christoph Zielinski (Head of the University Department of Internal Medicine I) and the President of the Christian Doppler Society, Reinhart Kögerler.

Dietmar Georg, Head of the Department of Medical Radiation Physics, and his team are pursuing a vision: to customise radiotherapy. “Thanks to the integration of new imaging methods, the systematic investigation of conventional and novel types of radiation and their effect on normal and tumour tissue, we are looking to optimise the use of radiation both from a physical / technical perspective and from a biological one.”

The “painting by numbers” principle
The aim is to develop hardware and software that will allow real-time monitoring during radiotherapy and which takes account of anatomical or biological changes. Says Georg: “In time, we should be able to tailor the radiation dose according to the biological requirements, similar to the ‘painting by numbers’ principle - or in this case, ‘dose painting’.”

During therapy, the tumour and organs move, which means that the first images taken on the CT scan at the start of treatment no longer reflect what's going on inside. “Every therapy concept should therefore take account of the spatial and chronological changes that a tumour undergoes during radiotherapy,” says Georg.

A further research module at the new CD Laboratory is focusing on the impact mechanisms of therapeutic radiation on normal tissue and in tumours. Specifically, the researchers will investigate the tissue response in the bowel and bladder, as well as in the salivary glands. These are structures that are unavoidably affected by radiation given for certain types of cancer.

The collected research results will in future also be applied to ion therapy. Thanks to its special energy delivery at the end of the range, ion radiation allows better protection of healthy tissue than photon radiation, which is the type of radiation used in conventional X-ray radiotherapy. In some countries such as Japan, the USA, Germany and Italy, for example, hydrogen and carbon nuclei are already undergoing clinical testing. “There are however other ions of potential interest, such as helium or oxygen,” explains Georg.

The CD Laboratory’s project partners include the MedAustron cancer research and treatment centre currently being built in Vienna's Neustadt district and the Technical University of Dresden as well as Elektra and Siemens. 

About the Christian Doppler Society
The Christian Doppler Research Society promotes cooperation between science and business. Specifically, this takes place in Christian Doppler laboratories (CD laboratores) in which fundamental research is carried out on application questions from companies.
These CD laboratories are set up for a period of seven years at universities or in extra-university research facilities. Under the guidance of highly trained scientists, the research groups in the laboratories work in close collaboration with corporate partners to find innovative answers to entrepreneurial research questions.

Service: Information on the CD laboratories at the MedUni Vienna:
http://www.meduniwien.ac.at/forschung/wissenschaft-forschung/drittmittelfinanzierte-projekte/christian-doppler-labors.html