Future radiotherapy treatments could take half the time and be more effective as a result of a colour X-ray processor being developed at Manchester University.
The system is being designed to provide in situ verification of the radiation dose and location delivered during cancer treatment, resulting in less damage to surrounding healthy tissue and organs.
Dr Roelof van Silfhout, who is leading the research, said that the new generation of 3D and colour X-ray imaging technology lacked the processing power to do this and therefore, whilst detailed, could not provide accurate real-time results.
‘The UK has invested enormous amounts of basic research into X-ray detectors,’ he said. ‘As a consequence we are very much at the cutting edge in this field. Often, however these systems are a long way away from something you can give to a user.’
van Silfhout cites the example of a silicon Medipix chip, developed by CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which is able to produce the first X-ray images in colour by converting X-rays directly into electrical charges.
He describes this is as a breakthrough in imaging technology, but said a lot more work in system design and data handling needs to be done in order to develop it into a useful commercial device.
‘What we’re trying to do is build a system around that chip,’ he said. ‘To do this, we want to combine the latest ARM processor technology, as used in iPhones, with programmable logic arrays to increase the processing time of the colour X-ray images.
‘In this way we could present essential information to the user while cutting away arbitrary and non-changing information…You could think of it as a type of “intelligent” compression technology.’
Around 45 per cent of all cancer therapy uses radiotherapy in some form. Prior to the treatment, a planning session takes place that involves X-ray imaging and measurements of the area that will be exposed to radiation.
It is expected that the system developed at Manchester will allow measurements to be taken whilst the procedure is being performed, allowing treatment time to be reduced 50 per cent.
With help from industrial partners FMB Oxford, van Silfout is confident that the research will lead to the development of a commercial device within three years.