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Graduate wins innovation award for new cancer treatment

A medical physics graduate who was inspired to develop a cancer treatment solution having watched her father die from the disease has been awarded a 2016 Women in Innovation Award.

The Women in Innovation awards panel, with Shakar seated front row, third from left

The Government’s Innovate UK launched the nationwide competition to challenge the low numbers of women entrepreneurs in the UK, with prize money of £50,000 for each winner.

Shakardoht (Shakar) Jafari’s company TrueInvivo, which she co-founded with a colleague Shabnam Jamshid,provides more accurate doses of radiation to patients and allows treatment to be targeted at tumours rather than healthy cells.

Seeing her own father die prematurely from cancer in Afghanistan prompted Shakardokht to specialise in the area of dosimetry – the monitoring of radiotherapy exposure.

Shakar’s university research project was to find an alternative to commonly-used dosimeters, overcoming both their high cost and technological limitations. The research of Surrey’s Professor David Bradley into optical fibres in dosimetry led her to consider other forms of glass that are robust and offer good spatial resolution in three dimensions, rather than using glass fibres. The latter are too fragile for practical use and can only be used to measure radiation in one dimension.

“When I was a child, I used to make necklaces using glass beads to earn a little money,” she said. “This gave me the initial idea of using these cheap beads as TL (thermoluminescent) dosimeters.”

Putting her theory to the test, Shakar found that not only are glass beads far less expensive than traditional dosimeters, but they also offered a far better performance.

As a result, TrueInvivo has developed small re-useable strings of tiny calibrated silica beads to measure received radiation. The silica beads can be used on the skin but, crucially, as they are safe inert material, they can be used inside the body much closer to the tumour. After treatment, the beads can be scanned by an automated reader to provide accurate measurements of the levels and spread of the received radiation. The patient’s treatment can then be adjusted accordingly.

Shakar said: “With our bead arrays and automated readers, radiotherapy teams worldwide will be able to adjust treatments or environments far more quickly, will be able to reduce damage to potentially millions of people and will be able to extend countless more lives.”

Each winner is awarded £50,000 and a tailored business support package. They will also receive mentoring from Innovate UK’s list of well-known business leaders, including Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook VP for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Soraya Jones, Cambridge Wireless founder and former CEO, Claire Williams, Williams F1 Deputy Team Principal.

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