PUBLIC TALK: Physics in the Fight against Cancer
A public lecture by Professor Thomas Bortfeld, Medical Physicist, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Even though cancer is far from being universally curable, there has been significant progress in its treatment over the past few decades. In the Unites States, for example, the five year survival rate after diagnosis of cancer, has increased from 50% in the 1970s to 67% in the 2010s. This improvement is not only due to advances in clinical research, cancer biology, and pharmaceutics, but largely also due to advances in physics.
Over the past decades, physicists have developed three-dimensional anatomic imaging (e.g., computed tomography) and functional imaging (e.g., magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography), which have revolutionized cancer diagnosis as well as our ability to target the disease with various treatment modalities such as surgery and radiation. In radiation therapy physicists have made particularly important contributions. For example, the development of intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) allows doctors today to focus radiation on the tumor and spare surrounding healthy tissues to a degree that has been previously unachievable. Yet another level of “conforming” radiation dose to tumors while avoiding surrounding organs is achievable with proton beams and heavier ions (see figure). The first proton therapy center in Australia is currently under development in Adelaide.
In this lecture Professor Bortfeld will review some of these contributions of physicists to medicine through his own lens as a physicist working in a hospital and at a medical school, based on his experience with the development of IMRT and proton therapy. He will also give an outlook into the future role that physicists may play in the search for a cancer cure. This should go beyond imaging and radiation therapy and be driven by grand challenges and provocative questions, which are being defined in collaboration with Professor Martin Ebert at The University of Western Australia. It should focus on the understanding of physical mechanisms underlying the evolution, growth, spread, and treatment of cancer. It should include the modelling and optimization of combinations of treatment modalities, and the probing of the patient’s dynamic response to the treatment for individually optimized treatments.
Professor Bortfeld’s visit is gratefully supported by an Australia-Harvard Fellowship, provided by the Harvard Club of Australia Foundation.
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