UBCO researchers improving cancer treatment and outcomes

New research into radiation for cancer tumours may make accurate treatment available much earlier in a patient's treatment.

A new program at UBC’s Okanagan campus may change the timeliness and affect of radiation treatments for cancer patients.

AndrewStarting this fall, in collaboration with the BC Cancer Agency’s Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins Centre for the Southern Interior, the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences will offer a master’s and PhD program in medical physics, combining physics, engineering, biology and chemistry.

Assoc. Prof. Andrew Jirasek, chair of the newly developed medical physics graduate program, said through innovative research on cancer treatment and prevention, members of the physics program are attacking cancer on several fronts.

“There is a great marriage between physics and medicine,” Jirasek said. UBC faculty work on a range of research projects in radiation oncology, medical imaging and biomedical spectroscopy.

“The outcome of our research will ultimately transform the way radiation therapy is delivered. This in turn will lead to better treatment for patients, improving the efficacy of radiation therapy while at the same time reducing the side effects.”

Jirasek and colleagues from engineering, biology and chemistry are using an optical technique called Raman spectroscopy to see how radiation may affect people at the cellular level. From here, dosage can be adjusted to be more precise and targeted.

“This is a very powerful technique. We can record and analyze information about how cells and tissues change throughout treatment,” said Jirasek. “Previously, the only outcome of treatment was disease status—for example, if a tumor had shrunk or grown. Our hope is that this Raman analysis will provide accurate treatment evaluation sooner.”

Timing with cancer treatment is everything, he said, stressing the sooner successful therapy is implemented, the better for the patient.

Under this new Medical Physics graduate program, students will have access to a full graduate course curriculum in radiation oncology medical physics, and will have the opportunity to learn about, and work on, world-class research projects.

“As radiation is such a significant part of cancer therapy, it’s important to make it as effective as possible,” Jirasek said. “Advances in delivery technology have enabled radiation beams to be rotated and adjusted to target the tumour and spare the healthy tissue, which will reduce side effects.”