By Leah Buletti
GAINESVILLE — UF Health is now the first site in the southeastern United States to house a groundbreaking device that will provide personalized cancer treatment by combining extremely detailed magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, with precision radiotherapy.
The technology paves the way for new therapeutic options for patients with the most challenging types of cancers, such as pancreatic and liver and tumors that have metastasized or spread into soft tissues.
The 1.5-Tesla MRI-guided linear accelerator, called the Elekta Unity MR-Linac, required more than two years of construction, installation and training in the UF College of Medicine’s department of radiation oncology at the UF Health Davis Cancer Pavilion. The device was unveiled today (Thursday, July 21) and is now available for patient care.
“I am thrilled that we will be able to offer this leading-edge technology to our patients and further support the life-changing care our teams in radiation oncology already provide,” said Traci d’Auguste, chief operating officer for UF Health. “We keep advancing our treatments and investing to improve for our patients.”
The device, one of only 42 in clinical use worldwide, has real-time MRI capabilities, allowing physicians to plan and deliver precise, adaptive treatment. It is particularly critical for patients with tumors in the liver, prostate, gastrointestinal organs and urinary and reproductive tracts.
“This technology provides more opportunities to improve our use of radiation therapy than we’ve ever had,” said Robert Zlotecki, M.D., Ph.D., a professor and vice chair for clinical affairs in the department of radiation oncology. “The 1.5-T MR-Linac allows us to visualize changes in the tumor or tumors with each daily treatment precisely delivered. We can probe the biology of cancers as we are treating by using predictive biomarkers of tumor response. Truly translational research can be achieved with this technology.”
The Elekta Unity MR-Linac features a magnet 30,000 times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field. This imaging is encased in a radiation delivery system called a linear accelerator, or linac. The moving, ring-shaped frame of the accelerator is six times faster than conventional treatment systems. That means there are much higher odds for accurately and successfully destroying a tumor, as there will be less chance for either tumor or normal organ motion to occur.
UF Health physicians will be able to see and track daily anatomical changes in tiny tumors — even smaller than a staple. The unparalleled images will help physicians make diagnostic-level treatment decisions, such as differentiating a solid tumor from soft tissues or even dying cancer from resistant tumors.
It will also help with treatment decisions by providing extreme resolution not only for detailed evaluation at the edges or margins of a tumor, but also for changes in the size, shape and position of the target tumors and the surrounding normal tissues.
“The ability to track in real time both the tumor and its biologic activity or response to treatment while ensuring healthy tissues and sensitive organs at risk are protected is unprecedented,” Zlotecki said. “This allows us to see into delicate soft tissues, particularly deep locations where lymph nodes can be involved, and difficult tissue locations where other imaging technologies cannot provide optimal resolution and detail. The visualization difference is night and day.”
The Elekta Unity MR-Linac also shortens treatment time, reducing it by several weeks or even to as little as five days of radiation therapy for some diseases such as prostate and rectal primary cancers.
“We can provide treatment more safely and far more effectively with less risk and less interference to a patient’s quality of life,” Zlotecki said. “This has an incredible quality of life and economic impact, not just for the patients themselves, but also for our health care system as a whole.”
The Elekta Unity MR-Linac adds to UF Health’s impressive portfolio of advanced technology for radiation oncology, which includes the Philips Ambition 1.5 Tesla MR scanner and Big Bore CT Simulator.