New UL-led project could dramatically reduce risk of error in certain cancer treatments

A new project led by researchers at University of Limerick, Ireland has the potential to dramatically reduce the risk of error in the treatment of prostate and gynaecological cancer.


Credit: Sean Curtin/True Media

A new project led by researchers at University of Limerick, Ireland has the potential to dramatically reduce the risk of error in the treatment of prostate and gynaecological cancer.

The Origin project, of which UL is the coordinating organisation, aims to deliver more effective, photonics-enabled, brachytherapy cancer treatment through advanced real-time radiation dose imaging and source localisation.

A new optical fibre based sensor system to support diagnostics-driven therapy through enhanced adaptive brachytherapy will be developed through the project.

It brings together leaders from academia and industry to develop a new multi-point optical fibre based dose-monitoring system for both low dose rate and high dose rate brachytherapy, with novel algorithms to provide 3D dose imaging with source localisation capability.

The project has just been awarded grant funding of almost €5m from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, of which UL has received close to €1m.

“The Origin system will be integrated into existing clinical brachytherapy treatment planning and delivery systems to confirm that the dose prescribed to the tumour is achieved, whilst ensuring the dose to organs at risk is within acceptable limits,” explained principal investigator Dr Sinéad O’Keeffe, a Royal Society – Science Foundation Ireland University Research Fellow at the Optical Fibre Sensors Research Centre at the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering in UL and a member of UL’s Health Research Institute

“This will provide for optimised dose-led, patient-oriented, personalised treatment plans leading to improved patient outcomes and prevention of treatment errors, with the potential to reduce the overall risk of treatment error by 55%,” she added.

Brachytherapy is a form of radiotherapy where radiation is administered internally. It is divided into Low Dose Rate (LDR), where the radioactive sources, known as seeds, remain implanted permanently in the patient, and High Dose Rate (HDR), where higher activity radiation sources are temporarily implanted.

Correct placement of the radiation source is vital to ensure adequate radiation to the target area (tumour), while ensuring minimum exposure to nearby critical organs, such as, in the case of prostate and gynaecological cancers, the bladder, urethra and rectal wall.

Optical fibres provide an ideal solution to true in vivo (i.e. internal to the body) volumetric dosimetry due to their small size, flexibility and electrical passiveness.

Optical fibre sensors offer numerous advantages over conventional dosimeters, such as thermo-luminescence detectors and diodes. The most significant feature of an optical fibre dosimeter is that the dose information is transmitted using optical signals as opposed to electrical signals and that these optical signals can be remotely collected. This ensures the utmost safety for the patient and medical staff in conducting in-patient in vivo dosimetry.

The project will progress the development of optical fibre based sensors capable of measuring true in vivo radiation levels during treatment to provide for dose mapping and radiation source localisation capabilities.

“The optical fibre radiation dosimeters will be further optimised for improved optical signal collection efficiency, higher signal-to-noise ratio and repeatable high volume fabrication,” explained Dr O’Keeffe.

“Taking manufacturability into consideration from the outset will ensure that Origin establishes Europe at the forefront of brachytherapy system development and photonics manufacturing,” she added.


Note for editors:

The Optical Fibre Dose Imaging for Adaptive Brachytherapy (ORIGIN) project is an initiative of the Photonics Public Private Partnership (, and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement number 871324.

The project is due to start on January 1, 2020 and last for three years. The total grant amount is €4,819,920, of which €913,380 is for UL. The grant has two Irish partners (UL and the Galway Clinic), bringing a total of €1,285,836.25 to Ireland alone – €372,456.25 for the Galway Clinic, which is involved in its first Horizon 2020 project.

UL is the coordinating organisation, and the other partners are: Vrij Universiteit Brussels, DoseVue N.V., Queens University Belfast, Centre Antoine Lacassagne, Galway Clinic, Eckert & Ziegler BEBIG and Università Degli Studi Dell’Insubria.

Dr Sinéad O’Keeffe is available for interview

For further information, please contact:

Alan Owens

Communications Officer

University of Limerick

+353 87 908 6633

+353 61 213000

[email protected]

About University of Limerick:

The University of Limerick is an independent, internationally focused university with more than 15,000 students and 1,400 staff. It is a young, energetic and enterprising university with a proud record of innovation in education and excellence in research and scholarship.

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Alan Owens
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