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Elekta’s next-gen MRI device offers new hope for cancer patients

Precision magnetic resonance imaging like ‘taking the blindfolds off of surgeons’

Elekta’s Unity (Elekta)
Elekta’s Unity (Elekta)
Swedish medical device company Elekta wants to give renewed hopes to cancer patients through its next-generation radiotherapy device Unity.

Elekta on Wednesday launched Unity in Korea, making it the country’s first 1.5 tesla MRI machine that allows real-time, high-definition monitoring of tumors.

Korean cancer patients will be able to access Unity at Yonsei University Gangnam Severance Hospital, starting July 26.

“If patients had undergone 20 radiotherapies before, with Unity, they would only have to be treated four to five times,” said Lee Ik-jae from the radiation oncology department at Gangnam Severance Hospital.

“The cost of the treatment would not differ greatly from before, due to government subsidies,” Lee said.

Gangnam Severance is so far the only hospital in Korea to be equipped with Unity, due to the high-end machine’s steep price tag.

What Unity does can be likened to “taking the blindfolds off from surgeons and giving them a sharper knife,” according to John Christodouleas, Elekta’s vice president of medical affairs and clinical research. Christodouleas spoke at an online press conference for the launching of Unity, Wednesday.

Previous MR Linacs, which uses a lower strength 0.35 tesla magnet, had low resolutions that could not be used for diagnostics purpose. Less precise, and low-definition imaging technology means doctors are close to blind when conducting radiotherapies on cancer patients.

Unity, with a 1.5 tesla magnet resonance, not only gives clear pictures of the contours of the organs and tumors but even shows their movements and locations in real-time.

“Unity generates so much information that that can be used by clinical teams to do three unique things: see the anatomy, see the dose and see the biology of the tumor that is being treated,” said Christodouleas.

Human organs are never stationary. They constantly move and change in sizes.

To target radiation beams accurately on tumor-affected regions in the human body, therefore, is a tough task if without clear images.

In radiotherapy, millimeter-level precision matters, in order to minimize normal cells’ exposure to radation. To a 6-centimeter sphere, a 1 millimeter difference of radiation would mean a 10 percent increase of volume.

“With Unity, the (radiotherapy) beam is delivered exactly where it’s supposed to be delivered,” Christodouleas said.

Although the device is debuting in Korea for the first time, elsewhere in the globe, Unity has been around for nearly two years now. In that time, 22 cream-of-the-crop cancer institutes have adopted the machine and have treated more than 2,000 patients with it.

Unity is a singular product, as it brings together the two things once believed physically impossible to combine -- high definition and the linear accelerator.

“(The two qualities) they are allergic to each other but researches from MR Linac have shown that one does not interfere with the other,” Christodouleas said, explaining that Unity successfully unified the two qualities by making them invisible to each other.

Other than Unity, Elekta is most well-known for the gamma knife, a radiation therapy method for cerebral diseases that does not require opening up the skull.

The firm was founded by Lars Leksell, the inventor of gamma knife, in 1972. Its headquarters is located in Stockholm, Sweden.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (kaylalim@heraldcorp.com)
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