Froedtert & MCW cancer center installs experimental cancer imaging system

Hospital one of only a handful around the world selected to test new technology

A section of the new MR-linac imaging system is hoisted into a radiation therapy vault at the Froedtert and MCW Clinical Cancer Center.

On Saturday morning, an installation crew used a crane to hoist a massive cylindrical tube and metal ring above Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin’s Clinical Cancer Center and lower the pieces of equipment into one of the hospital’s heavily-insulated radiation therapy vaults.

The equipment is part of a new advanced imaging system to guide radiation therapy in cancer patients called an MR-guided linear accelerator, or MR-Linac. It’s a brand-new technology that combines Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI, with a linear accelerator — a system used during radiation therapy to shoot damaging x-rays at cancer cells — and Froedtert & MCW physicians and researchers are hoping it will allow them to collect valuable data and develop more effective cancer treatment techniques.

Froedtert & MCW is one of only a handful of sites around the world that will install an MR-Linac system over the next couple of years. In 2013, it was selected by the manufacturer, a Swedish company called Elekta, to be part of a consortium of hospital systems around the world to provide input during its development phase. Froedtert & MCW will now test the system’s capability through clinical trials over the next few years.

Four other sites have already installed the new technology: The Netherlands Cancer Institute; the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands; the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas; and the Institute of Cancer Research in London.

The system allows doctors to look at patients’ tumors in real time while delivering radiation therapy and adjust dosages and parameters accordingly. Theoretically, the technology will improve a physician’s ability to limit the exposure of healthy tissue to damaging x-rays during cancer treatment, and maximize the exposure of cancerous tumors to the treatment.

“While we already have significant evidence supporting the potential of MR-Linac, fully realizing its practical applications will require rigorous evaluation in real world clinical settings,” said Dr. J. Frank Wilson, a radiation oncologist and professor of radiation oncology with Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network, in a statement released Tuesday. “Initially, we will focus on establishing clinical protocols and refining methods for data collection and analysis in pancreatic cancer, a deadly disease with limited treatment options. We are optimistic that MR-Linac will be a critical advancement in patient care and ultimately, improve outcomes in this and other types of cancers.”

Over the next few years, Froedtert & MCW researchers and physicians will work with members of the MR-Linac consortium assembled by Elekta to establish clinical protocols for using the imaging system and also methods for data collection and analysis.

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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