New MRI-radiation hybrid machine in Alberta expected to improve cancer treatment by at least 20 per cent

Technology in Alberta that is expected to allow doctors to more accurately and effectively treat cancerous tumours with radiation enters clinical trials next week.

This next step, after 15 years of work, was celebrated in Edmonton on Friday as a “game changer” and “true medical breakthrough.”

The LMR, or Linac-MR machine, simultaneously delivers radiotherapy and high-resolution imaging – something researchers say was previously considered impossible because the magnetic field and x-rays of the two machines interfere with each other if placed within 10 metres.

But a tumour’s position can shift with a patient’s movement, as they go between machines, or even by breathing. So doctors need to use radiation more conservatively to avoid hitting healthy tissue or organs near a tumour, which in turn means lower radiation doses and a higher number of treatment sessions.

“Say I know exactly where the tumour is without killing healthy tissue: We can calculate the cure rates will improve by 20 to 40 per cent for all solid tumours,” creator Dr. Gino Fallone told reporters.

The medical physicist at the University of Alberta has been working on the idea with researchers from Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute and Alberta Health Services since 2008.

Dr. Nawaid Usmani, who will lead the clinical study, also expects the machine will be able to treat tumours that are difficult to access – like prostate, liver, and pancreatic cancers.

“Over the course of your career, it’s very rare to be involved in a true innovation, something that revolutionalizes how treatment is administered and is able to offer new treatments to patients,” he commented during the news conference at the Cross Cancer Institute.

“I’m very fortunate to have been involved in this innovation as I’ve been able to witness right before my eyes this concept become a reality.”

‘VERY OPTIMISTIC’

Usmani’s team is hoping to include 100 patients in the LMR’s first year-long trial. Five more phases, each with roughly 100 more participants, will follow.

Marvin Bahry, an 84-year-old prostate cancer patient, will be the first-ever clinical trial participant.

Bahry first had prostate cancer around 12 years ago and told CTV News he has “high hopes” to beat it again.

“I’m very optimistic that all of his research and the hard work of Dr. Usmani and other doctors and nurses and so on, will benefit not only me but all the other people who come here,” he said.

“Any good that comes out of it from me will benefit others and that’s my little contribution to others in this world…I see nothing but good coming out of all of this.”

Jordan Turko, a Cross Cancer Institute fundraiser and cancer survivor, echoed Bahry’s thoughts: “When I think about innovations like this, it buys folks like me more time.”

In April 2022, at 30 years old, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer his doctor believes developed over a period of just four months. Nine months of targeted radiation and pill therapy later, he says his cancer has “fully retreated.”

“For the average person, as time goes on, you get less of it. It goes on, you get a little older. But for cancer patients, it’s ironic that within innovations like this, when we get a little more time,” Turko said of the LMR.

“So things like this are a really big deal because they buy a little more time. Which hopefully means that another great innovator will buy more time and give us more moments in our life.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson 

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