Professor Ryan Anderson
Oncology Department, University of Oxford
A new network of UK centres of excellence is set to revolutionise health outcomes in the field of radiobiology and radiation oncology.
“Radiotherapy has been a key part of curative treatment for cancer patients for decades. During the past 20 years there have been tremendous technical advances in radiotherapy, but there are still some tumours that either don’t respond well, or even at all, to treatment,” explains Professor Ryan Anderson, senior group leader in oncology at the University of Oxford.
Advancements in radiotherapy
Recent innovations in radiotherapy include the development and subsequent introduction to the UK NHS of proton beam irradiation, a therapy which hit the headlines in 2014 following a legal battle involving the parents of child cancer patient Ashya King.
In addition, ultra-high dose-rate (‘FLASH’) irradiation has become a hot topic of research for both standard (photon) and proton beam irradiation because laboratory research has shown that FLASH is a very effective anti-cancer treatment with less side-effects than conventional radiation.
However, major gaps still remain in both our understanding of the basic biology that underlies the effectiveness of these innovations, and how these can best be combined with other therapies such as immunotherapy, which could seriously limit their future deployment into the clinic
Equally, no biomarkers are yet available to predict which new treatments will give the greatest efficacy and least side-effects for individual patients.
The importance of networks
Professor Ryan is particularly excited by a new research network initiative (RadNet), spearheaded by Cancer Research UK. RadNet is a network of seven UK centres of excellence, each with distinct but overlapping areas of speciality in radiobiology and radiation oncology. By bringing together academic and clinical expertise across the country, the £56 million 5-year CRUK programme aims to catalyse and accelerate advances in radiobiology knowledge and clinical practice that can address the current gaps in our understanding and translate novel scientific discoveries into patient benefit within 10–15 years.
Professor Ryan believes the commitment of CRUK to RadNet is particularly welcome: “This funding for this initiative is critical because it brings radiotherapy to the core of our scientific thinking and it gives all the network members a clear and common research goal of significantly improving patient outcomes. Now the hard work begins!”