The camera can be used to calculate the dose for radiotherapy treatment. Radiation physicists at Lund University are carrying out the research project with partners in the business sector.
Professor Sven-Erik Strand literally puts his finger on the problem when he leans forward and points at a dark spot on the photo. On the computer screen is a picture of a patient, taken with a ‘gamma camera’. The dark spot is a tumour.
“The problem is that we don’t know exactly what the radioactivity in the tumour looks like in the patient. The disadvantage of today’s measuring instruments is that it is difficult to see small details”, he says.
The limit of the gamma camera’s resolution is at 1–1.5 centimetres. Sven-Erik Strand explains that a more detailed image would be a great help in planning patients’ treatment. In a tumour, the radioactivity in the cancer cells is never evenly distributed. Instead, different parts of the tumour are more or less active. It is necessary to calculate an appropriate radiation dose to produce the greatest possible effect, and therefore technology is needed which can clearly show, down to less than millimetre level, what the tumour looks like.
Sven-Erik Strand works at the Division of Medical Radiation Physics in Lund. His research group has spent many years working to develop and test different detector systems which produce digital images with higher resolution. In the project, the group collaborates with the Lund company BioInvent and the Norwegian company Biomolex.
“Biomolex in Oslo is building the actual system and BioInvent manufactures the molecules which we then test on different cancer models to study the properties of the detector system”, says Sven-Erik Strand.
Last year, the collaborating trio were top ranked by the Eurostars programme. Their research project was selected by an international jury in the third round of applications for Eurostars funding. Eurostars is an EU programme which supports collaboration between small and medium-sized enterprises and academia on different research projects. The trio’s top ranking was accompanied by SEK 3.5 million for the three-year project.
Sven-Erik Strand’s research group not only does research on radiation doses, but also on diagnosis, i.e. the step before treatment. Radioactive substances can namely be used both for diagnosis and for treatment. By injecting the patient with a radioactive substance, it is possible to find tumours using PET or SPECT tomography, which produce three dimensional images of the distribution of the radioactive substance in the body.
The research group, with the help of BioInvent, is studying a number of radioactive substances linked to antibodies to see how well they work as tumour-homing molecules. The radioactively labelled antibodies have different abilities to travel to parts of the body where cancer cells are found. Sven-Erik Strand leans forward again and points at a close-up of two different tumours on the computer screen.
“We can clearly see here how differently these two substances attach to the tumour”, he explains.
Sven-Erik Strand’s research group not only collaborates with the business sector, but also with other partners at Lund University, for example nuclear physicists at the Department of Physics, and forms part of the Lund University Bioimaging Centre, one of the University’s major investments to make advanced research equipment available for users throughout Sweden.
“Our detector system is one of the types of equipment that will be available at the Bioimaging Centre”, says Sven-Erik Strand.
Lund University Bioimaging Centre
The Lund University Bioimaging Centre is headed by Professor Freddy Ståhlberg. The centre will be a national resource for biomedical research that requires advanced cameras and will also form an interdisciplinary resource where national and international research groups can carry out experiments. A year ago, the Swedish Research Council decided on a major investment in a state-of-the-art MRI scanner, which will be used, among other things, to study the brain in very high resolution for research on neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. The new scanner will be installed at the Lund University Bioimaging Centre in 2012.
– Lena Björk Blixt
Sven-Erik Strand’s research group, Systematic Radiation Therapy, collaborates with the Lund company BioInvent on a project to develop a new type of high-resolution detector. Sven-Erik Strand is pictured with doctoral student Anders Örbom and Bo Jansson from BioInvent.