Work has started on building a pioneering radiotherapy machine at The Christie that can ‘see and treat’ cancer with pinpoint accuracy.

The MR-guided linear accelerator will be one of only seven in the world. It combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning and tumour-busting radiotherapy treatment in one hi-tech package. 

The four tonne magnet and other large parts of the machine have been delivered to The Christie and the machine will be fully built by the end of the year. 

The MR-linac is an advanced form of radiotherapy machine that will potentially enable The Christie to deliver more targeted and more personalised radiotherapy for patients. 

Radiotherapy is the second most common treatment for cancer. Despite big advances in the accuracy of radiotherapy over recent years, the treatment can still cause side-effects as well as kill cancer cells. 

The MR-linac will precisely locate tumours, tailor the shape of X-ray beams in real time, and lock-on to the tumour during treatment, to accurately deliver radiotherapy even when tumour tissue is moving during treatment (for example a tumour in the lung will move up and down as a person breathes). MR-linac will also see if a tumour changes shape, location or size between treatment sessions to ensure that the cancer is targeted accurately for treatment. 

As the accuracy of MR-linac treatment is so good, it may be possible to deliver higher doses of radiotherapy whilst preserving healthy tissue. This will potentially result in a more effective treatment for patients with fewer side effects and fewer treatment visits. For patients with cancer close to one of their key organs such as the heart, spine, brain or reproductive organs, the increased accuracy reduces the risk of radiotherapy treatment causing long term problems. 

Commenting on the MR-linac project at The Christie, Dr Ananya Choudhury, said: “The MR-linac will be a revolution in radiotherapy and I believe it will make a big difference to our patients in the future. It lets us see tumours very clearly and treat them at the same time with pinpoint accuracy. 

“We will be able to adapt the radiotherapy to a patient’s shape in real time, bringing on a new era of personalised radiotherapy. As well as better clinical outcomes, we expect MR-linac will lessen side effects. 

We are so excited that with the help of The Christie charity we are bringing the very latest, most advanced radiotherapy technology to The Christie. 

Fundraisers at The Christie charity are aiming to raise £1m towards the overall £5.3m cost of the MR-linac. The remaining capital funding is being provided by The Christie NHS Foundation Trust. 

The Christie is working with seven leading international cancer centres in North America and Europe as part of the Elekta MR-linac consortium. The MRI technology partner for Elekta is the global electronics giant Philips. Combining an MR scanner with a radiotherapy machine has been a major challenge for physicists because the radiation treatment is affected by the strong magnetic fields. 

“Elekta is delighted to be working with The Christie on this exciting and ambitious programme,” says Kevin Brown, Elekta’s Vice President of Scientific Research. “The Christie has been at the forefront of pioneering developments in radiotherapy for more than 100 years and Elekta’s partner on many of the major innovations for example, our first multileaf collimator, Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy and Cone Beam CT image guidance. We believe that MR-linac is the next generation of radiotherapy machine and has the potential to transform the future of cancer care. I commend The Christie for being one of the first seven hospitals in the world to adopt this groundbreaking new technology, previously thought impossible.” 

As a member of the Elekta consortium, The Christie will be focussed on researching the best use of MR-linac for treating patients with cancer. 

The MR-linac at The Christie will be built by the end of the 2016 but will not treat any patients until regulatory approval has been given. 

In a global survey, The Christie was ranked as the 9th most technologically advanced cancer centre in the world and the top centre outside North America. This ranking is supported by recent developments at The Christie including proton beam therapy, advanced radiotherapy, our Integrated Procedure Unit, new robotic surgery facilities and a new MRI suite.