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UOW Cancer Tech Research Receives Funding

Children with brain cancer are among those expected to benefit from two grants announced for University of Wollongong researchers.

The Cancer Institute NSW Fellowships – worth a combined value of over $1 million – will go to Dr Saree Alnaghy and Dr Linh Tran, both are from the Centre for Medical Radiation Physics (CMRP) and are also affiliated with the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute. Both fellowships run for three years.

Dr Tran is working on a new type of radiotherapy, called proton therapy, which can be ‘focused’ to stop at the site of the cancer tumour, without causing damage to surrounding normal tissue under the mentorship of Distinguished Professor Anatoly Rozenfeld.

Dr Alnaghy is developing a new imaging system for radiotherapy to better visualise soft tissue structures like tumours and critical organs under the mentorship of Senior Professor Peter Metcalfe.

He said that current problem is that it’s hard to aim the radiation beam during treatment and avoid healthy tissue before and during treatment. His team is, thus, looking into using a specialised spectral radiation detector that can measure the energy information of the X-rays that pass through the body.

“By analysing the energy, we can get more detailed information on the material it has passed through, giving us better soft-tissue contrast,” he said.

Better imagery leads to more accurate radiation delivery resulting in fewer side effects, more effective treatment, and less damage to healthy tissue. Dr Tran is also working on targeting tumours more directly but using an innovative treatment called proton therapy.

The CMRP team has invented a device called a “microdosimeter” which they wish to develop further to use in Australia’s first proton therapy facility, currently being developed in Adelaide, as well as in other locations around the world.

The invention represents a new paradigm that will provide maximum benefit to Australian cancer patients by minimising healthy tissue damage and maximising patient outcomes. Through a combination of innovation and creativity, the microdosimeter will have unique properties that permit the measurement of protons at clinically relevant high dose rates.

Dr Tran said the next generation of microdosimeter would also measure an important property called linear energy transfer, which determines the biological effect of the proton beam. She noted that this new treatment will be especially effective for patients with cancer tumours located next to other sensitive tissue or organs, such as the brain, the spine and the eye. It will be used where the side-effects of damaging healthy tissues is a major concern. This is particularly the case for cancers in children, and especially brain cancers, where the surrounding tissues are still critically developing.

The Cancer Institute NSW is a part of NSW Health and aims to end cancer by promoting early detection, cancer prevention, diagnosis treatment and care. The Research Fellowships are highly prestigious and competitive awards for researchers to build on their research capability and become leaders of their own research team.

The global cancer diagnostics market size was valued at US$17.2 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.5% from 2021 to 2026. The growth of the cancer diagnostics market is driven mainly by the increasing incidence of cancer and growth in the number of private diagnostic laboratories.

The number of private diagnostic centres is increasing across the globe as there is a rising demand for diagnostic imaging procedures and a growing burden on public hospitals due to the limited number of imaging modalities at their disposal.

By technology, the cancer diagnostics market is segmented into IVD testing, imaging-based and biopsy techniques. The IVD testing segment accounted for the largest market share in 2020. The large share of this segment can be attributed to the increasing incidence of cancer.

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