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Pioneering Full-Body MRI Device Tracks Moving Tumors in Real-Time During Proton Therapy

By MedImaging International staff writers
Posted on 10 Jan 2024
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Image: Beam line of the proton therapy system (left) with opened Aurora-PT system, i.e. in-beam MRI (middle) and patient couch (right) (Photo courtesy of UKD/Kirsten Lassig)
Image: Beam line of the proton therapy system (left) with opened Aurora-PT system, i.e. in-beam MRI (middle) and patient couch (right) (Photo courtesy of UKD/Kirsten Lassig)

For the first time globally, scientists have combined a full-body MRI device for real-time imaging with a proton therapy system in the form of a prototype. With this, experts from the fields of medicine, medical physics, biology, and engineering will now conduct scientific testing of a new form of radiotherapy for treating cancer.

Scientists at Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR, Dresden, Germany) and the Dresden University Medical Center (Dresden, Germany) have ingeniously combined the capabilities of a full-body MRI machine, designed to rotate around the patient, with a proton therapy system. This combination aims to enhance the precision of proton therapy for cancer patients by utilizing real-time MRI imaging during treatment. MRI’s superiority lies in its ability to produce high-contrast images of tumors, enabling more accurate differentiation of the tumor from adjacent healthy tissues. This precision allows for a more precise definition of the radiation target area. Moreover, MRI can track changes in the tumor’s size and shape across treatment sessions, facilitating the tailoring of the radiation beam to each patient’s unique needs. Significantly, this technology also enables the visualization of tumor movement during radiation sessions, allowing for synchronization between the tumor's movement and the application of radiation.

Creating this novel system presented substantial technological challenges, particularly due to the interaction between the magnetic fields used in both the MRI device and the proton radiation system. These interactions can potentially affect both the quality of the imaging and the accuracy of the proton beam application. Building on the success of a previous prototype that demonstrated the technical feasibility of simultaneous radiation and imaging, this latest development marks the first-ever use of real-time MRI imaging in this context. The research team plans to use this prototype in future studies to assess its potential benefits, particularly for mobile tumors located in areas like the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.

“This new prototype with integrated full-body MRI makes it possible to visualize moving tumors using high-contrast real-time imaging. Our work aims to develop a technique to irradiate tumors only when they are hit reliably by the proton beam,” said Prof. Aswin Hoffman who developed the new system. “The MRI device, which can rotate around the patient, enables us to use innovative types of patient positioning for proton therapy in both lying or in upright positions.”

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Dresden University Medical Center

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