Future of medical physics: Real-time MRI-guided proton therapy

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With the recent clinical implementation of real-time MRI-guided x-ray beam therapy (MRXT), attention is turning to the concept of combining real-time MRI guidance with proton beam therapy; MRI-guided proton beam therapy (MRPT). MRI guidance for proton beam therapy is expected to offer a compelling improvement to the current treatment workflow which is warranted arguably more than for x-ray beam therapy. This argument is born out of the fact that proton therapy toxicity outcomes are similar to that of the most advanced IMRT treatments, despite being a fundamentally superior particle for cancer treatment.

In this Future of Medical Physics article, we describe the various software and hardware aspects of potential MRPT systems and the corresponding treatment workflow. Significant software developments, particularly focused around adaptive MRI-based planning will be required. The magnetic interaction between the MRI and the proton beamline components will be a key area of focus. For example, the modeling and potential redesign of a magnetically compatible gantry to allow for beam delivery from multiple angles towards a patient located within the bore of an MRI scanner. Further to this, the accuracy of pencil beam scanning and beam monitoring in the presence of an MRI fringe field will require modeling, testing, and potential further development to ensure that the highly targeted radiotherapy is maintained.

Looking forward we envisage a clear and accelerated path for hardware development, leveraging from lessons learnt from MRXT development. Within few years, simple prototype systems will likely exist, and in a decade, we could envisage coupled systems with integrated gantries. Such milestones will be key in the development of a more efficient, more accurate, and more successful form of proton beam therapy for many common cancer sites.

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