Cancer Innovation Sunnybrook Magazine - Spring 2018

The MR-Linac: Game-changing radiation technology

The MR-Linac, a massive hybrid radiation-and-MRI machine, aims to change the way cancers are treated.

Soon doctors at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre will be able to watch a beam of radiation move through a patient’s body in real time, directing that beam precisely at a tumour.

This groundbreaking technology is called the MR-Linac. “MR” refers to MRI (magnetic resonance imaging); “Linac” refers to linear accelerator, the machine that delivers the radiation.

The MR-Linac is the first machine to combine radiation and high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging. Thanks to the machine’s real-time imaging, it lets doctors and radiation therapists at the Odette Cancer Centre target tumours and monitor their response to radiation with unparalleled precision. They will be able to see immediately whether a tumour is responding to radiation.

Sunnybrook is the first hospital in Canada to install this machine, which promises to be a game changer in the way cancer is treated.

2012 Sunnybrook becomes a founding member of the seven-member international MR-Linac Consortium. Member hospitals are hand-picked for their expertise by Elekta and Philips – the MR-Linac’s manufacturers – to refine, test and use the machine to treat patients.

Radiation bunker

Fall 2016 Construction starts on the specialized radiation bunker that will house the MR-Linac. Major tweaks had to be made to the existing room to reinforce the floor (so it could support the MR-Linac’s six-tonne weight), a hole was cut in the ceiling to lower the machine in, and the room was lined with lead to make it safe to use radiation in the space.

Set-up and calibration on the MR-Linac

Fall 2017 Set-up and calibration on the massive machine continues. In September 2017, a beam of radiation in the MR-Linac is turned on for the first time in Canada.

Click on images above to enlarge

July 2017 The MR-Linac installation begins. It took a team of a dozen people and one very large crane a full day to lower the giant machine in parts into its bunker through a hole in the ground along the Odette Cancer Centre’s west wall.

MR-Linac machine

What’s next? Once Health Canada approves the MR-Linac for research use, the Sunnybrook team will start several clinical trials with the machine to help perfect its use. Sunnybrook is the lead site in the development of the machine’s use in brain cancer.

Photography by Doug Nicholson and Kevin Van Paassen

About the author

Marjo Johne