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Dr Jenny Spiga

I am a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Physics in Warwick since 2017. My main research interests are in the area of Medical Physics, and in particular dosimetry, Monte-Carlo simulations and experiments for new radiation therapy techniques that employ the latest X-ray sources. I collaborate with the biomedical group ID17 of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble (France) since I was an undergraduate, as I went there with an Erasmus boursary to work on my final year project before graduating in Physics at the University of Cagliari (Italy). I went back to the ESRF as a PhD student, spending almost two years there as visiting scientist. I contributed to a number of peer reviewed research papers, mostly on Microbeam Radiation Therapy (MRT), but I also worked on Cone CT Breast Imaging and on the application of X-ray microbeams in the treatment of epilepsy. I joined Warwick as a Daphne Jackson Fellow, jointly funded by Warwick and EPSRC, focusing on dose enhancement techniques for radiotherapy. I then worked as a project researcher on a STFC impact acceleration account to maximise the impact of our research on radiotherapy dose enhancement for cancer treatments. I am a member of the Global Challenge Network+ in Advanced Radiotherapy which aims to bring the clinical and academic researchers in radiotherapy together, to translate research out of the laboratory towards patient benefit. I am also member of the International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists (INWES), as well as project researcher on a diversity and inclusion project (link here) conducted worldwide in collaboration with the Department of Engineering in Warwick and INWES.

Microbeam Radiation Therapy (MRT)

MRT is an innovative preclinical radiotherapy technique, developed at the ESRF and at few other synchrotrons around the world. Using synchrotron radiation, MRT reduces the damage risk by delivering the dose via a parallel array of microscopic beams, as opposed to a single wide beam used in conventional radiotherapy. This produces high (peak) doses along the beam paths, and very low (valley) doses between beams. Preclinical studies show that the efficacy of MRT is due to the differential effect of the microbeam pattern on normal tissues and tumours, the first appearing to be more tolerant of such microscopic inhomogeneity of dose than tumours. This makes this therapy particularly suitable for areas, such as the brain, in which minimising damage is vital. Using computer simulations and experiments, my work consists in the optimisation of the parameters best suited to produce the desired peak-to-valley dose profiles that maximise the MRT therapeutic benefit. One of the major obstacles in bringing MRT to the clinical practice is cost. Modern synchrotrons are very expensive facilities to build, with just a handful available worldwide. Being used for a wide range of applications, 'beam time' for medical uses is necessarily restricted. Also, given their size (diameter of about 1 km), it is hard to imagine how synchrotrons could be integrated even in the largest hospitals. Therefore, one of the main objectives of my research is to find pioneering new compact sources, which can deliver radiation with the properties needed for MRT, in order to move the technique from the laboratory to the clinical trials, which are an essential precursor to patient treatment.

Further Reading on MRT:

http://www.esrf.eu/home/UsersAndScience/Experiments/CBS/ID17/mrt-1.html

Dose Enhancement Techniques

Maximising the effectiveness of the therapy is a key research priority. One of my goals is to use X-rays in combination with metal-based compounds, to amplify the local dose deposition on the tumour. Being already incredibly used in imaging as contrast agents, they have the unique property to absorb significantly more radiation than soft tissues, due to their high density and atomic number. In the frame of an STFC Impact Acceleration Account, one of my current research goals is to determine the best combination of X-ray spectra and metal concentration to maximise dose enhancement.

Teaching

I currently teach in the PX271 Physics Skills Module, where I am responsible of the Gamma-ray Spectroscopy (S3) experiment. I also supervise second and third year projects on both Radiotherapy and Imaging.

Daphne Jackson Trust

Contact:

j.spiga@warwick.ac.uk

Department of Physics,
University of Warwick,
Coventry CV4 7AL
UK