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New network in medical physics

Initiative funded by NSERC’s CREATE program seeks to bolster innovation in the development of technologies used for diagnosis and treatment of disease
Published: 12 Aug 2013
Greg Rickford

A new network that is bringing together expertise from universities, government and industry is implementing a new vision for training the next generation of medical physicists. Ultrasounds, X-rays, MRIs and nuclear medicine are only a few examples of the essential contributions of medical physicists. The field of medical physics applies the principles of physics to medicine, from diagnosis to treatment, and seeks to quickly transform scientific discovery into clinical applications. Medical physicists are also clinical health care professionals providing service in fields such as radiation therapy, medical imaging, nuclear medicine or radiation protection, to name a few.

The Medical Physics Research Training Network (MPRTN), which builds on leading research programs in medical physics at McGill University and Université Laval, will benefit from the Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The announcement was made today by the Honourable Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology, at an event held at McGill.

“Medical physics research training is essential to harness the problem-solving skills of the graduates so that they can successfully operate in a clinical environment of ever-increasing complexity.” said Prof. Jan Seuntjens, Director of the Medical Physics Unit at McGill and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and co-director of the MPRTN. “The network will enable us to offer this research training by facilitating access to the best expertise or technology, regardless of whether this exists at universities, in industry or government. Next-generation medical physics innovators will improve the translation of discovery of new processes or technologies into clinical applications. This means better medical care for patients needing better diagnostics and treatments.”

"Thanks to medical physicists, we have, for example, made some advances in personalized, accurate radiation therapy, in which the radiation dose is adapted based on how a particular patient responds to radiation, as captured by imaging techniques during the treatment,” added Prof. Seuntjens. “And this new training program will help push these and other advances in medical physics much further."

“Our Government will continue to support research that brings together academic and industrial partners because we recognize that long-lasting returns can be realized when academic research is integrated with private sector know-how,” said Minister of State Rickford. “We remain committed to investing in the next generation of innovators, whose work promises to keep Canada competitive on the global stage and bolster our economy through partnerships with the private sector.”

The MPRTN will receive $1.65 million from NSERC’s CREATE program, as well as additional funding from McGill University, Université Laval, the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The network will also benefit from in-kind commitments from the medical devices industry, Harvard Medical School and the National Research Council of Canada.

The initiative aims to enrich graduate education in medical physics by featuring new Ph.D.-level courses, more connections and collaborations with the basic sciences, as well as closer links with the medical devices industry, such as through internships for students. Research will focus on radiation physics, imaging and image processing, as well as radiation response and bio- and nano-science applications, leading to improvements in diagnostic abilities and treatments of cancer and other diseases.

“We would like to thank the government of Canada for the support provided through NSERC’s CREATE program and congratulate the team led by Prof. Seuntjens,” said Prof. Anthony C. Masi, Acting Principal and Provost of McGill University. By helping universities foster an enriched training experience for graduate students, the CREATE program is contributing to preparing them for their future careers as innovators and, in turn, to the successful transfer of discovery into applications that benefit our society.”

NSERC’s CREATE initiative helps science and engineering graduates add valuable job skills to their academic achievements. The funded networks announced today will be led by teams of Canadian university researchers who will help students develop leadership, entrepreneurship, communication and project management skills.

“This team-based training is providing a valuable experience for students and postdoctoral fellows to learn practical skills and to engage in cutting-edge, multidisciplinary and, in some cases, international research,” said Isabelle Blain, Vice-President of Research Grants and Scholarships at NSERC. “Exposing our trainees to an innovative, collaborative training environment will enable them to succeed in careers that contribute to the world’s top research.”

For more information on the CREATE program: http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/professors-professeurs/grants-subs/create-foncer_eng.asp

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