2012 Finalist: Outstanding Leadership In Alberta Technology
Team Effort Results In Improved Cancer Treatment
For more than a decade Dr. Gino Fallone and his team have been leading advancements in innovative radiotherapy for cancer treatment using Image Guided Radiotherapy. The team led the world in applying CT-based image guidance for radiotherapy. Because of the limitations of that system, they began working on a system using Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) guidance for radiotherapy.
Persevering in the Face of Adversity
At the time many experts considered it to be impossible to couple an MRI with a Linear Accelerator (LINAC) to produce optimal images and an effective radiation device. Under enormous odds and obstacles, Dr. Fallone and his team applied creativity and persistence to identify unique approaches to problems that solve and advance radiotherapy technology. Their dedication has culminated in the leading-edge Linac-MR technology.
“Everything we’ve done has been a lot of hard work and we have needed a large team to do this kind of work,” says Dr. Fallone, who says that he enjoys complicated, new problems to solve. And this was a particularly important problem to solve.
“We wanted to build something to help people with cancer, because cancer touches everyone,” says Dr. Fallone, Professor and Director, Division of Medical Physics, Department of Oncology at the University of Alberta; and Director, Department of Medical Physics at the Cross Cancer Institute.
Indeed, in 2012 more than 180,000 new cancer cases and 75,000 cancer deaths will occur in Canada. Radiation eradicates cancer cells to treat the disease in about 50 per cent of cancer cases. But its full curative potential is limited because it is difficult to determine the boundaries of tumours during treatment; and healthy tissue can potentially be harmed while irradiating the cancerous region.
Linac-MRI is the only device that allows the real-time tracking and guided radiation treatment that minimizes the radiated area to preserve healthy tissue and permits increased radiation doses to the tumour. Targeted irradiation of the tumour only — without the margin — could result in a 20- to 40-per cent improvement in tumour control for certain types of cancer.
“Our system is the best possible way to irradiate tumours,” Dr. Fallone explains. “Using MRI, we can target soft tissue on the fly and attain the tumour only, which will improve patient outcomes. And it is not a niche device — we believe it will be effective for about 80 per cent of all cancers.”
The Linac-MRI will treat all cancers currently treated by radiation and has the potential to significantly improve the clinical outcome for lung, prostrate and brain cancers; and treat cancers not commonly treated by radiation (gastrointestinal tissue, liver, spleen and pancreas).
The research was conducted with the support of Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta. The research has been supported from its inception by the Alberta Cancer Foundation, and received funding from the Western Economic Diversification, the Alberta Advanced Education Technology, Canadian Institute for Health Research, and the Alberta Innovates Health Solutions.
Conversations about commercializing the Linac-MRI system are under way and Dr. Fallone and his team are hopeful that they will realize small-scale commercialization within the next couple of years. Although the Linac-MRI system could have been sold internationally, the intent is to keep the opportunity local by establishing an Alberta-based start-up company.