The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) is the first Higher Education Institution (HEI) in the UK to sign up for the very latest version of a powerful simulated Radiotherapy Treatment Planning System (RTPS), which has been futureproofed.
The RTPS uses specialist software called 'Eclipse', developed by Varian Medical Systems, which more than 50 per cent of clinical radiotherapy sites in the UK use to create treatment plans for patients who have cancer.
Robin Jhagra, Senior Lecturer in Radiotherapy and Oncology at UWE Bristol, explains: “Treatment planning is integral to radiotherapy and now involves really sophisticated technology that is able to transfer information from CT, MRI and PET scans, to accurately pinpoint the precise areas that need targeted external beam radiotherapy or internal brachytherapy. Students will be able to produce simple or complex treatment plans for administering appropriate treatment to patients with cancer tumours under simulated conditions.
“It is important to clarify that radiotherapy planning is not about booking in appointments – it is about mapping radiation beams accurately before radiotherapy treatment is delivered to patients over a period of time, in order to target the tumour and spare healthy surrounding tissue wherever possible. This system is the latest version available on the international market and the technology has the capability of delivering highly quality specialised on-site training to students. The system is also suitable for distance learning because it allows treatment plans and imaging data to be remotely accessible anywhere in the country, as long as the student has an internet connection.
“Our students will take information from real CT scans, so they can outline the tumour area in 3D on the computer and draw up the areas needing targeted beams. The images are in high definition and this makes the targeted treatment planning extremely accurate. The system makes it possible to plan in a whole series of treatments for a patient and is also futureproofed as the software is built to enable evolution and updating.
“The beauty of the system is that if a patient is responding well, and the tumour targeted can be seen to shrink following information derived from a further CT scan during the treatment, then the system can be used to adapt the treatment to deal with a smaller area to avoid radiotherapy beams going to areas of the body where they are not needed.”
Adam Nash, third year Radiotherapy student at UWE Bristol, is currently working on his dissertation, which focuses on how the new system works and how it is beneficial to students; he said, “I have worked with Robin on the commissioning of the new system, it is very user friendly and remote access will vastly improve practice.
“We currently get to practice radiotherapy planning at the University but the system we use needs a lecturer and technicians to be present and this limits accessibility. With the new system we can do calculations on our own, it is much faster and it opens up the possibility for lecturers to set optional and graded projects that we can work on independently. This gives us the ability to demonstrate more competence and in-depth knowledge when we go on placement.”
The planning system integrates with another important piece of equipmemt at UWE Radiotherapy, called Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Training (VERT) which will enable students to practice simulated radiotherapy using the treatment plans they have mapped out on the RTPS.
Varian spokesman Neil Madle said, “As the world's most widely used Radiotherapy Treatment Planning System, Eclipse provides doctors with three-dimensional image viewing, virtual simulation, radiation dosage calculation and verification and other tools for generating personalised treatment plans for patients. It's pleasing to see a new generation of future Radiotherapy Radiographers at UWE receiving training using the Eclipse system.”
Marc Griffiths, Associate Dean of Health and Applied Sciences at UWE Bristol, said, “Providing our students with access to the best resources available enables them to practice in near real scenarios before moving in to real world situations on placement in hospitals and health centres.
“Better quality training means students will become proficient in this subject area and hit the ground running as soon as they enter practice as radiographers when they graduate.”
UWE Bristol has a great track record in radiotherapy training with previous graduates winning radiographer of the year prizes five times in the past six years.