Project to target lung cancer tumours takes top ranking

1 December 2011

Professor Paul Keall is developing techniques to detect and measure tumours more accurately.
Professor Paul Keall is developing techniques to detect and measure tumours more accurately.

A University of Sydney researcher developing significant advances in lung cancer treatments was recognised with a major award last night at the National Health and Medical Research Council's 75th Anniversary Gala Dinner and Awards.

Professor Paul Keall is developing techniques to provide real-time information about the exact location and shape of tumours receiving radiation therapy. He took out the award for the top ranked project in the NHMRC's latest round of grants.

Professor Keall said his aim is to treat patients with the "lowest radiation dose in the shortest time by using the patient's breathing signal to guide how the tumours are imaged."

The technology he is developing, called 'respiratory motion guided 4D cone beam CT imaging', will lead to higher quality images of tumours - which typically move from 0.5 to 1cm and up to 5cm with breathing - in real time.

"The better images of the tumour we have, the better we can target the tumour and reduce toxic side effects such as pneumonitis," Professor Keall explained.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, with 1.2 million new cases per year. Approximately 44 percent of lung cancer patients in Australia receive radiotherapy.

Currently the five-year survival rate for lung cancer patients is just 16 percent. Increasing radiation doses increases a patient's survival chances, but it also increases toxic side effects such as pneumonitis.

Professor Keall's project was the top ranked project of 3495 applications in the latest NHMRC funding round, and one of only three projects receiving the highest possible scores in the three key ranking categories: the project's scientific quality, its real world impact and significance, and the researcher's track record.

"I am delighted with the recognition of our project and I look forward to implementing our methods for patient treatment in the project's later stages," Professor Keall said.

Professor Keall's project collaborators at the University of Sydney include PhD student Ben Cooper, software developer Ricky O'Brien and computer engineer Associate Professor Alistair McEwan.

He will also work with David Ball, radiation oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Geoffrey Hugo and Jeffrey Williamson, professors at Virginia Commonwealth University (US) who have provided key insights and data.

The NHMRC 75th Anniversary Gala Dinner and Awards was held at Parliament House last night.

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