Medical Physics

The Surrey-NPL research theme in medical physics builds on a long-standing three-way collaboration between the University, NPL and the Royal Surrey County Hospital, supported by a number of joint roles across the institutions.

The Surrey-NPL research theme in medical physics builds on a long-standing three-way collaboration between the University, NPL and the Royal Surrey County Hospital, supported by a number of joint roles across the institutions.

Under the new strategic partnership, the hub brings together activities within the University’s Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Physics (CNRP) and Ion Beam Centre (IBC), with complementary work in NPL’s Acoustics and Ionising Radiation Division.

The Surrey-NPL hub focuses on three main strands of research:

  • Medical physics covering dosimetry (radiation monitoring)
  • Medical imaging (much of the research within this strand is aimed at developing safe, effective solutions for innovative cancer therapy and diagnosis)
  • Nuclear metrology

Recent projects

Some recent successful projects have included:

Development of high-accuracy dosimeter 

A research team led by Professor Andy Nisbet (a joint Surrey-Royal County Hospital staff member) has developed a dosimeter (radiation monitor) capable of measuring the radiation dose deposited in tissue by a single photon.

The dosimeter employs ISTED (Inductive Superconducting Transition-Edge Detector) technology designed at NPL, incorporating a tissue-equivalent absorber to enable the detector to measure radiation dose levels with extreme accuracy.

Having won further National Institute of Research (NIHR) funding through its ‘invention for innovation’ (i4i) programme and European funding through the European Metrology Research Programme, the research is now close to yielding commercial spinouts.

Investigating the implications of gold nanoparticles in medical imaging

Gold nanoparticles (GNPs) have potential use for a wide range of medical applications including as contrast agents in diagnostic imaging, but this is currently limited by a lack of understanding of the role they play in enhancing dose absorption. These parameters are key to image quality and to identifying any health risks for patients.

A project led by Dr Giuseppe Schettino, Principal Research Scientist in NPL’s Radiation Dosimetry Group and Dr Silvia Pani, Lecturer in Applied Radiation Physics at Surrey, supported by Surrey Ion Beam Centre’s Cell Laboratory, aims to identify, assess and quantify these key parameters to support clinical implementation of GNPs.

Uniquely, the project combines using cutting edge imaging technology, and investigating the radiobiological implications of GNP, as opposed to their simple image-enhancing effect.

The results could open the door to greater use of GNP in healthcare, allowing earlier detection of tumours and, due to their capability to target specific cell types, enabling more effective discrimination between benign and malignant tumours

Standardising radium-223 to enable safe delivery of targeted radiotherapy

A Surrey-NPL team led by Professor Paddy Regan (who holds a joint post across the two institutions and the first chair in radionuclide metrology in the UK) is investigating the radionuclide decay which happens when certain types of isotopes are created.

One of the radioisotopes the team has focused on is radium-223, which is used for radiotherapy in more than 3,000 clinics worldwide to extend the life of patients with metastasized bone tumours (which can occur following prostate cancer).

Measuring the radium isotope’s radioactivity accurately is vital: too little leaves the tumour unaffected, but too much could kill the patient.

Bringing together Surrey’s expertise in nuclear physics and NPL’s advanced gamma-ray sensor equipment, the team were able to develop a new traceable standard for ionising radiation chambers used around the world, and also discovered that the existing literature values were wrong by about 10 per cent.

The ‘National Nuclear Array’ (or ‘NANA’) equipment developed by Surrey and NPL may also have applications in the disposal of nuclear waste.

The radium-223 project is just one example of Surrey and NPL’s joint work in the field of radionuclide metrology. Other ongoing research is aimed at characterising the signatures of the earth’s earliest identified isotopes – knowledge that could help us understand where the elements we see in nature are formed.

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