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Published: 13 April 2016

University’s medical imaging research could make cancer therapies more accurate and effective

The medical imaging group within Surrey’s Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP) is conducting ground-breaking research aimed at improving outcomes for cancer patients.

One of the key areas of expertise within the CVSSP is medical imaging, which has a range of applications including radiotherapy, radiology, paediatrics and mental health.

An example of this research is the group’s work on ‘non-contact optical imaging’, a technique that utilises state-of-the-art computer vision technology to gain data. Dr Kevin Wells who leads this work, explains, “This technology could be used when delivering radiotherapy on a lung tumour, when a patient’s natural movement while breathing causes inaccuracy in the delivery of the radiation beam. By using medical imaging we can enable motion correction of the beam, ensuring that the therapy is as accurate as possible.”

Proton beam therapy is another area where medical imaging plays an important role.  The University, through Professor Phil Evans, plays a major part in PRaVDA (Proton Radiotherapy Verification and Dosimetry Applications), a Wellcome-funded collaboration with other universities, the NHS, electronics industry and the iThemba proton radiotherapy centre in Cape Town. Whereas conventional radiotherapy is delivered using an X-ray beam which – in addition to killing cancer cells – also causes damage to the healthy tissue surrounding tumours, proton beam therapy potentially offers a more accurate, tailored treatment. Surrey’s part in the PRaVDA project is to lead on the development of image reconstruction techniques to determine where the proton beam deposits dose in the patient.

Professor Evans says, “We believe that this research could be especially beneficial for childhood cancers, since children are at more risk of future cancers caused by radiation treatment, and for tumours located very close to critical structures such as spinal cords.”

The medical imaging group is also engaged in research aimed at optimising the use of imaging technology in breast cancer screening. The work at Surrey, led by Dr Wells with Dr Prem Elangovan, is currently undertaken in collaboration with the National Coordinating Centre for the Physics of Mammography, the Royal Surrey County Hospital and other healthcare and academic partners within OPTIMAM 2, a Cancer Research UK-funded research programme. The objective of this project is to develop imaging methodology and validated simulation tools for conducting virtual clinical trials as an alternative to conventional clinical trials, which are costly and cannot keep up with the rapid pace of technological innovation.

Other projects within the Centre’s medical imaging group are focused on addressing challenges around image-guided Brachytherapy (which involves using radioactive sources placed inside the body to treat cancer) and analysis of detailed texture structures in images of tumours in patients with lung and head and neck cancers. This work is carried out in collaboration with clinicians and physicists at the Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and St Peter’s Hospital and Alliance Medical Limited.

Professor Evans says, “It’s important to understand that medical engineering is translational research. Our goal is to take basic engineering and physical science knowledge and apply this to medical research questions. Ultimately we want to get this technology into clinics where it has the potential to improve lives.”

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