Prototype of revolutionary cancer treatment dedicated

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The Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center and Middleton-based firm TomoTherapy, Inc. recently unveiled a revolutionary cancer treatment that delivers targeted radiation to affected tissue, yet leaves surrounding cells unharmed.

The treatment, called tomotherapy, and resulting prototype machine are the result of a collaboration between TomoTherapy co-founder T. Mackie, a professor of biomedical engineering, human oncology and medical physics, and UW-Madison oncologist Minesh Mehta.

Cancer treatment lab

Scientists at the university’s Physical Sciences Laboratory built the prototype tomotherapy machine, which targets cancer cells with radiation but leaves surrounding cells unharmed. Above: Professor Rock Mackie and Minesh Mehta, a UW oncologist, with the partially assembled prototype. (large image)

Relative to the type of radiotherapy available today, tomotherapy will offer significant benefits to cancer patients, says Mehta. “First, it will potentially reduce side effects by ensuring that the radiation is considerably more precise. Second, it will allow us to give higher doses of radiotherapy and may allow patients to complete their course of treatment in a shorter period of time.” In addition, he says, tomotherapy’s precision may mean more patients will be candidates for treatment.

Mackie with tomotherapy machine

Mackie’s prototype tomotherapy machine, housed in the radiotherapy section of UW Hospital, will undergo clinical trials with human patients in 2001. (large image)

Among the guests the tomotherapy dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony were UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley and Sue Ann Thompson, wife of former Wisconsin Gov. and newly named U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. “I wouldn’t be a Thompson if I didn’t say something,” she joked. A breast-cancer survivor, Thompson said she’s received tremendous help and support from both the university and UW Hospital.

At the celebration, Mackie called tomotherapy an idea that’s pushing itself forward. “Tomotherapy really has the potential to allow more cancer victims to survive,” he said. The next two tomotherapy prototype machines will be sent to Canada-his home country-as soon as the country gives its approval, he said.

Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center Director John Niederhuber is optimistic about the new treatment. “We think this is really going to revolutionize the treatment of cancer,” he said.

The prototype is housed in the radiotherapy section of UW Hospital and Clinics. Pre-clinical testing is underway and clinical trials with human patients will occur later this year.