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Fast-tracking radiation therapy with the help of AI

New research is making it possible to create lifesaving radiation treatment plans within minutes rather than days.

When artificial intelligence (AI) is harnessed to help humanity, the possibilities are exciting. For cancer research, this technology has the potential to accelerate our understanding of cancer as well as speed up personalised treatment plans for improved patient outcomes. 

It is this potential that has been recognised in the latest round of our Grants-in-Aid program which is entirely funded by generous donations from Victorians. 

With 11 innovative cancer research projects awarded a share of $3.9 million in funding, the grants are critical to the implementation and success of further research into the causes, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all cancers. 

For Researcher Dr Mathieu Gaudreault, this funding is pivotal in getting his project up and running. Dr Gaudreault’s revolutionary research uses AI technology to create lifesaving radiation treatment plans that can be formulated in a matter of minutes rather than days, reducing the time between diagnosis and treatment. 

Dr Mathieu Gaudreault at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
Dr Mathieu Gaudreault at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

 Radiation therapy is prescribed to almost half of patients with cancer, but creating radiation treatment plans can take between five to 10 days and there remains some limitations.  

“These treatment plans take a long time to do. Basically, after diagnosis, the patient will be brought in to do a CT scan to image their anatomy, and the treatment plan will be based on their anatomy. This is a complicated, mathematical calculation,” said Dr Gaudreault. 

Now, with the help of AI technology, a faster and more accurate treatment plan is possible meaning treatment can start sooner and with greater precision. 

We’re basing this technology off hundreds of real treatment plans that have been done in the past. Basically, the AI model trains and learns from these treatment plans and comes up with the best possible plan for the patient,” he added. 

This tool will also have significant benefits for regional centres in Victoria, ensuring patients outside metropolitan Melbourne can access the same standard of care and minimise the burden of additional visits for radiation therapy treatment. 

Along with Dr Gaudreault’s revolutionary work, researchers at The University of Melbourne, Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre, Monash University, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), Biomedicine Discovery Institute, and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre were all awarded grants in 2024 via Cancer Council Victoria’s Grants-in-Aid Program.  

 “Our grants are entirely donor funded and highlight just how important our supporters – the generous Victorian public – are in helping us work towards the next cancer breakthrough,” said Cancer Council Victoria CEO, Todd Harper AM. 

More Victorians are surviving cancer than ever before, with five-year survival now at 71 per cent. Research, like that undertaken by Dr Gaudreault, will help to see cancer survival rates continue to rise. But this is only made possible thanks to generous Victorians who donate, fundraise or volunteer their time to support ground-breaking discoveries.  

For Dr Gaudreault this has allowed him to purchase essential equipment and begin the project. “Without this funding, we wouldn’t have been able to start,” he said. 

The breakthroughs you're making possible

Cancer Council Victoria strives to use our supporters’ generous donations in the most effective way possible, so we ensure a robust and transparent process for awarding research grants.  

Each grant applicant is assessed by Cancer Council Victoria’s Standing Research Committee through a two-stage competitive process. Successful grant recipients are chosen for their high probability of a major breakthrough in cancer prevention, detection, treatment or care.

Learn more about research

Return to Breakthrough May 2024 edition