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High-performance computing could improve therapy for hard-to-treat cancer

Researchers reduced 4D-MRI image reconstruction times to 60 seconds.

Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust have revealed that high-performance computing can facilitate a new radiotherapy approach for hard-to-treat cancers.

Using a new high-performance computing method, researchers were able to reduce the time taken to reconstruct images from a high-quality imaging technique, four-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging (4D-MRI).

Funded by the ICR’s Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre and Imperial College London (ICL), along with computing experts from ICL, researchers applied a known algorithm to data from four people with pancreatic cancer.

Using a computer testing unit to run the algorithm, the team successfully reduced the time taken for image reconstruction to just 60 seconds when using a graphics processing unit.

Additionally, all reconstructed image qualities were identical to the reference versions, achieving a similarity index score of above 0.99, where 1 is an exact match, after testing four different data preparation strategies.

Currently used by clinicians to distinguish between healthy and cancerous tissues, patients can be asked to hold their breath or wear an abdominal compression to prevent movement during MRIs, which can result in inaccurate images and discomfort for patients.

Reduced reconstruction times will allow clinicians to use 4D-MRI to guide radiotherapy in real time for cancers in the thoracic and abdominal areas, including liver, kidney and pancreatic cancers, making radiotherapy more effective with minimal side effects.

Study author Bastien Lecoeur, a student in the ICR’s Radiotherapy Group’s magnetic resonance imaging department, said that the 4D-MRI “could increase certainty around tumour positions and enable safer, more effective treatments,” which could “benefit patients with a range of cancers”.

Researchers believe that 4D radiotherapy could be developed, according to Dr Andreas Wetscherek, lead of the ICR’s Radiotherapy Group’s magnetic resonance imaging department.

This would “provide a volumetric visualisation of the patient’s anatomy for each second of the treatment in real-time” and “would remove the need for patient positioning devices or, in the case of paediatric patients, sedation,” added Wetscherek.