Researcher profile: Dr Doan Trang Nguyen

Dr Doan Trang Nguyen

More accurate radiotherapy with less side-effects—that is the goal of new research from the University of Sydney’s Dr Doan Trang Nguyen.

Dr Nguyen has an early-career fellowship from the Cancer Institute NSW for her study ‘Widely accessible high precision radiotherapy with multi-modal adaptive tumour tracking (MATT)’.

She is using her background in biomedical engineering and combining it with new technology to help people with cancer.

What is the research?

Dr Nguyen’s study is developing a more accurate way to track tumours, so treatments can be delivered directly to cancers.

“By nature, radiotherapy needs to be precise,” explains Dr Nguyen. “The power of radiation is detrimental to cancers and normal tissues.”

Currently, radiotherapy treats a single area that is larger than it needs to be, to try and account for any movement.

“But if the cancer moves and the beam is static (hitting the same area for each dose), this means the cancer, at some point, might not receive the intended radiation.

“And, if normal tissues come into the beam line as the cancer moves out of the way, they will be hit by a large radiation dose that was not intended for them.”

By tracking tumours at all times and directing the beam at the cancer, Dr Nguyen says her study could offer better outcomes for people with cancer.

How does high-precision therapy work?

The fellowship is helping Dr Nguyen develop a new revolution in tumour-tracking technology.

The MATT system will allow for higher tracking accuracy at a higher temporal resolution than current tumour-tracking technology.

“High precision therapy uses the multi-modal adaptive tumour tracking (MATT) system to track the cancer at all times during the treatment,” Dr Nguyen says.

“The position of the cancer will be sent to a motor control unit that will direct the treatment beam at the current position of the cancer.”

What could it mean for people with cancer?

“For people with cancer, it means a more effective treatment,” says Dr Nguyen.

She believes it will have the most impact when tracking cancers within organs that move, such as the lungs, liver, pancreas, kidney and prostate.

“The cancer will be hit with the exact dose of radiotherapy the physician prescribes, which will hopefully translate to better control and outcomes.

“People will also experience less side effects of the treatment.”

Ultimately, Dr Nguyen hopes tumour tracking will become standard for anybody undergoing radiotherapy.

The progress so far

The tumour-tracking technology continues to develop, with a view to trialling it in 2019.

“Currently, I am working to optimise the MATT technology so it can be fast enough to react in real-time,” explains Dr Nguyen

“I hope that next year we will be able to start using MATT alongside current tumour-tracking technology in a liver cancer trial.

“We are also in talks with the amazing team at Royal North Shore Hospital to use this technology in a pancreatic cancer trial.”

For Dr Nguyen, it’s about translating laboratory research into real outcomes for people with cancer that drives her important work.

“With this technology, I can make a real impact and help people with cancer.”

Dr Nguyen is also supported by an early career fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council to study low-cost, high-precision radiotherapy.