University upgrades Northampton x-ray kit so it can research if flecks of gold help kill cancer

Jon Golding with the x-ray machine that the Open University needs for its studies into the usfulness of nano-particles of gold and cancer cells.
Jon Golding with the x-ray machine that the Open University needs for its studies into the usfulness of nano-particles of gold and cancer cells.

A specialist x-ray machine used by Northampton General Hospital​ ​is to be upgraded​ by the Open University so academics can use it to see if particles of gold can kill cancer.

​​The Gulmay machine uses superficial x-ray targeting​, making it​ ideal for treating a range of cancers affecting the skin or the delicate areas of the face, head and neck.

Towards the end of last year, it became apparent that the machine not only needed a new x-ray tube but a complete upgrade.​

Researchers at The Open University in Milton Keynes considered the machine so important to their ongoing studies into cancer cells, they have now offered to help fund the upgrade.

​Jon Golding, senior lecturer at The Open University, said the equipment was some of the set in the country for what they wanted to achieve.

He said: “What we’re trying to do with this technology is use very tiny gold particles that get selectively into the cancer cells​,​ which​,​ in the presence of radiation​,​ destroys the cancer tissue.

​“​That allows us to treat the cancer cells specifically and spare the surrounding tissue. It also allows us to potentially use much lower doses of radiation to do the same job​.”​.

Because of the proximity of Northampton and Milton Keynes, cell cultures do not need to be out of the incubator for very long when they undergo experiments and all the radiotherapy can be done within an hour.

Dr Craig Knighton, consultant clinical oncologist at Northampton General Hospital, said: “We’re very grateful for their financial contribution which not only helps to ensure their research can continue but ensures we continue to have a range of treatment options for patients appropriate to their needs.”

“Unlike the more conventional linear accelerator machines,​ i​t’s also very helpful when we treat patients with restricted mobility because we can treat them in a seated positon; we can’t do that with the more powerful machines which require patients to be lying down.”

The hospital uses the Gulmay machine to treat 150 patients each year. The total cost of the replacement components combined with the upgrade was £42,000​.