Machine to aid cancer patients gets tryout in St. Louis

Saturday, February 8, 2014 | 5:50 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Two lung cancer patients in St. Louis are the first in the world to get radiation therapy in a new machine that provides real-time clear imaging of their tumors.

The ViewRay machine was developed by a Washington University doctoral graduate, Jim Dempsey, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. He brought his invention back to Washington University in 2011 for a clinical trial, though the university holds no patents or financial interests in it.

The machine was recently used on two patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. It allows the magnetic resonance imaging and radiation to be produced at the same time, giving doctors a look at the tumor as they deliver the radiation beams, potentially helping them better target the cancerous cells.

Oncologists can also observe CT scans during radiation treatment, but the MRI offers a clearer image and doesn't add an additional dose of radiation. Real-time MRI scanning can also be used for delicate brain and spine surgeries.

Throughout the clinical trial at Washington University, where 27 patients were enrolled, doctors found that the machine was particularly useful for those with soft tissue tumors in the lungs and abdomen, said Parag Parikh, assistant professor of radiation oncology.

"Right now we don't have good ways to line up those patients because we can't see what's going on," Parikh said.

Washington University doctors say the ViewRay has a potential advantage over traditional radiation by delivering a more geographically precise dosage for tumors that move and change in size. There is no evidence that the machine provides better outcomes for patients.

The FDA approved the machine in 2012. Cancer centers at the University of Wisconsin and UCLA have also purchased ViewRay systems.

Parikh said Barnes-Jewish will continue to partner with Dempsey and ViewRay to study the effectiveness of the treatment and possibly open more clinical trials.

"To support an old graduate, it is a bit of a St. Louis success story," Parikh said.

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