In 2017, the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network became the only cancer program in the Midwest, and one of just seven in the world, to begin testing the imaging portion of the technology. We expect to start treating patients with MR-guided radiation therapy in 2018.

The Elekta MR-linac, a high-field MR-guided linear accelerator, will be the world’s first radiation therapy technology to combine an MRI scanner with a linear accelerator in a single system. Previously, experts thought it would be nearly impossible to combine MRI and linear accelerator devices, because the powerful MRI magnets could interfere with radiation beams. MR-linac was developed by Elekta and its MRI technology partner Philips.

Christopher Schultz, MD, radiation oncologist, explains how the MR-linac technology works and the ways it could change radiation therapy for cancer patients in the future.

With an MR-linac, doctors have the potential to “see” tumor tissue more clearly — and adapt the radiation dose while a patient is being treated. Because it could safely deliver higher doses of radiation to a tumor, treatment is expected to be more precise and more effective than ever before. It could also reduce the number of treatment sessions, providing more convenience for patients.

Researchers at Froedtert & MCW Clinical Cancer Center at Froedtert Hospital are part of Elekta’s MR-linac Consortium — a global research team studying the advanced capabilities of MR-linac technology. The data and analysis the consortium members compile will help define the practical applications of MR-linac with the goal of improving outcomes of cancer patients treated with radiation therapy around the world. Read the news release.

William Hall, MD, talks about the Elekta MR-linac and its potential to be a "game-changer" in cancer patient care. Dr. Hall is part of the team studying the Elekta MR-linac’s capabilities at the Froedtert & MCW Clinical Cancer Center at Froedtert Hospital in collaboration with the Elekta global consortium.

Personalized Medicine: MR-Linac Could Adapt to Each Patient

To install the technology, two components — a magnet, weighing about 5.75 tons, and a gantry, weighing about 10 tons — were lowered through an opening in the roof of the Clinical Cancer Center. Watch the time-lapse video.

MRI, with its fine-detail imaging capabilities, provides a clear picture that distinguishes tumor tissue from normal tissues — for radiation therapy planning and treatment delivery. MRI provides excellent soft-tissue visualization of tumors deep within the body and has real-time imaging capabilities.

MR-linac is expected to allow doctors to see a tumor clearly and treat it precisely every time. The technology could provide real-time information on tumor location, organ function and therapeutic targeting that has not been available before. With MR-linac, physicians could have the ability to monitor and assess the tumor’s position while a patient is being treated.

With its state-of-the-art visual capabilities, MR-linac technology has the potential to allow doctors to:

  • Clearly see soft tissues, distinguishing tumors from normal tissues, blood vessels and bony structures
  • Precisely locate tumors during every treatment session
  • Shape the radiation beam to the tumor each day or as needed over a course of treatment, taking into account the tumor’s position, shape, biology and its relationship to sensitive organs, such as the heart, rectum or stomach
  • Accurately deliver higher, more effective doses of radiation to the tumor
  • Offer treatment in fewer sessions: Because daily radiation doses could be higher, patients may not need as many treatments
  • Avoid radiation dose to normal, healthy tissues, blood vessels and organs

How MR-Linac Works

Potential to Improve Patient Outcomes

MR-linac was designed to be able to treat patients with all types of cancers that are treated with radiation therapy today. Going a step further, it may be able to treat patients who have cancers previously considered unsuitable for or hard to treat with radiation therapy. For example, because of its ability to adapt, MR-linac may be particularly effective for patients with tumors that are in constant motion. This would include a tumor in the lung that moves with each breath — or pancreatic, liver and other upper abdominal tumors that also move with a patient’s breath — and which may wrap around blood vessels or lie close to organs such as the stomach that don’t tolerate radiation therapy well.

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