Please join us in congratulating CMRP PhD student Joel Poder, medical physicist at ST George CCC who was awarded the very competitive award “Ian O’Rourke Scholarship Award in patient safety” for his research on the development of Magic Plate based phantom and real-time in vivo dosimetry for QA in HDR ultrasound based planning brachytherapy of prostate cancer.

This award was provided to Joel to spend a sabbatical at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, NY, USA medical physics department with outstanding researchers to implement CMRP technology in clinical practice.

This award is another confirmation of outstanding training and medical physics research at CMRP/School of Physics UOW and collaboration with SGCC. Congratulations should go to Dr Dean Cutajar who has supported by joint appointment with St George CCC and Dr Marco Petasecca who are working intensively on Magic Plate project for QA in HDR Brachytherapy and contributing to Joel’s education and training.

Outline of scholarship and works

The Ian O’Rourke Scholarship is open to all employees of NSW Health facilities and/or agencies and employees of NSW-based academic institutions. The scholarship is designed to allow participants to develop better skills in integrating evidence from research in health care quality and safety policy and programs. Joel applied for the scholarship to assist with the project of implementation of a two-dimensional radiation sensor array (Magic Plate) developed at the Centre for Medical Radiation Physics (CMRP) at the University of Wollongong for in-vivo source tracking during high dose rate brachytherapy. The scholarship will fund a two-week sabbatical to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, a world leading centre in the field of brachytherapy. During the sabbatical, Joel will perform validation of the Magic Plate embedded in a phantom  in close collaboration with the St George Hospital Cancer Care Centre and CMRP

High dose rate brachytherapy is a radiotherapy treatment technique in which the radiation dose decreases rapidly outside the treatment volume, making it an ideal technique for treating targets close to organs at risk, such as the prostate. The radioactive source is inserted directly into the tumour and therefore delivers a highly conformal dose. However, due to the steep dose gradients, the dose distribution within the target volume is largely inhomogeneous. High dose rate brachytherapy treatments are also prescribed with a large biologically effective dose delivered with 2-3 treatments only, leaving little room for error. It is for this reason, along with the steep dose gradients, that robust in vivo real-time quality assurance methods need to be employed to ensure that the prescribed dose is delivered to the target as calculated by the treatment planning system.

There are currently no dedicated commercially available systems for this purpose, despite the severe complications that may occur due to potential errors in treatment. The sensor array would ensure that the high dose rate brachytherapy treatment is being delivered as planned, and the dose distribution approved by the radiation oncologist on the TPS is accurate. The work conducted as part of the scholarship at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre is expected to lead to the implementation of the sensor array for ultrasound based high dose rate brachytherapy patient treatments at the St George Hospital Cancer Care Centre. This would be a world first, establishing both the Centre for Medical Radiation Physics and St George Hospital Cancer Care Centre as world leaders in patient safety and quality for high dose rate brachytherapy.