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The Australian MRI-Linac for Cancer Treatment

The Australian MRI-Linac at the Ingham Institute is a world-first research and technology project that will redefine and improve radiation treatment for cancer.

The centrepiece of the program is a 12-tonne high-tech device, that combines a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and a radiotherapy linear accelerator (Linac) into one integrated system – the MRI-Linac.

This world-leading technology is housed in the Ingham Insitute’s research bunker within South West Sydney’s Cancer Therapy Centre at Liverpool Hospital.

The Ingham Institute is one of only four institutions in the world developing MRI-Linac technology. The Australian innovation includes many design and technology features unique to this device: it is the first high-field ‘inline’ system.

The program is enabling researchers to develop world-class solutions that will improve the effectiveness of radiation therapy for people living with cancer.

The project, now in Phase II of development, has quickly achieved significant milestones:

  • In April 2017 – first human images were obtained and
  • In May 2017 – real-time images were used to control the treatment system.

Researchers are developing the technology faster than initially thought and expect patient trials to begin by mid 2018.

How the MRI-Linac works

Half of all cancer patients will need radiotherapy for a cure, to improve their chance of survival, or to relieve  symptoms.

Radiotherapy treatment uses a Linear Accelerator to kill or damage tumours and stop them from growing. Still images of the patient and their cancerous tumour are taken prior to treatment, are used to help plan and guide the direction of the radiation beam. Unfortunately, this radiation process can also damage normal tissues that are subjected to the radiation beam during treatment.

An MRI scanner can display real time images of internal organs and tissues.

The MRI-Linac combines of these two technologies, a Linear Accelerator and an MRI scanner.

By combining these two devices, the MRI-Linac can monitor the movement of tumor locations caused by breathing, swallowing, and other normal body movements during treatment. Tumours can be treated with greater accuracy, reducing damage to surrounding healthy tissues in the body.

The new machine will also be able to pinpoint parts within the tumour that are most active and aggressive, so a higher dose of radiation can be delivered to those areas.

The MRI-Linac will set a new benchmark for cancer treatment, with the potential to dramatically reduce side effects and improve cancer treatment outcomes.

Watch a one-minute video animation that shows how the Australian MRI-Linac at the Ingham Institute works.

MRI-Linac research partners and collaborators

The Australian MRI-Linac is located at the Ingham Institute who, together with Liverpool Hospital, provide the infrastructure and oversight of the program.

The research program is embedded into Liverpool Hospital and involves collaboration between numerous of universities and scientific organisations including:

  • University of Western Sydney
  • University of New South Wales
  • University of Sydney
  • University of Newcastle
  • University of Wollongong
  • University of Queensland
  • Stanford University
  • CSIRO

The program has received funding from:

  • Australian Government Health & Hospitals Fund
  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)
  • Radiation Oncology Trust Fund for Liverpool & Macarthur Cancer Therapy and
  • Sydney South West Area Health Service

Key milestones of the MRI-Linac project

January 2010
Received initial funding from the Australian Government Health & Hospitals Fund

July 2011
Awarded the construction contract for the research bunker

March 2012
Completed construction of the research bunker

2013-2015
Installed linear accelerator and infrastructure

November 2015
(Phase I) Installed 1.5 Tesla ex-clinical MRI

December 2015
Conducted first beam-on image of the first prototype system

April 2016
(Phase II) Installed 1T Split Bore Agilent magnet

May - December 2016
Installed MRI RF and gradient coils

February 2017
Successfully integrated all components of the split bore MRI

February 2017
Conducted first beam-on image of second prototype system

April 2017
First human images obtained

May 2017
Conducted first real-time imaging and combined Linac control

Mid 2018
Expect to commence patient trials

The Australian MRI-Linac is one of hundreds of research and development projects underway at the Ingham Institute, where we are developing new ways to inspire health and transform care in our community.

Find out more

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