The University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine has installed a new linear accelerator in the Veterinary Health Center. A linear accelerator creates high energy x-rays, which are used to treat patients with certain types of cancer. The new linear accelerator was purchased after the previous linear accelerator, which had been used at the CVM for approximately seven years, began to break down. According to Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology Charles Maitz, DVM, PhD, DACVR-Radiation Oncology, the previous machine was around 8 years old when it was purchased, and the average life span is usually around 15 years of functionality before needing large-scale repairs or replacement.
“Toward the end of its life-cycle the wave-guide, or the part that accelerates the electrons up to high energy, just started failing,” said Maitz. “Of course, that was a part that wasn’t covered by our service contract, and it would have been pretty expensive to replace.”
The process of obtaining a new machine began back in January of 2019. The breakdown of the old linear accelerator was complete by June 2019, so the CVM has been without this important machine for a year. During the interim, a number of patients went to the Veterinary Health Center at Wentzville for treatment or used alternative therapies. “We’ve had other options available where we’ve done electrochemotherapy or having our surgical oncologist give us another option for some of these patients, but we’ve certainly felt we’ve missed the radiation side of things with the linear accelerator,” Maitz said.
The new linear accelerator is not just a replacement for the previous machine, but a step up in terms of capabilities. The VHC will now be able to comfortably double the number of patients treated with the new machine. Previously the VHC had been able to treat approximately five patients per day. The expectation is that 10 patients per day can now easily be accommodated.
“It’s a huge jump forward,” said Maitz. “The accelerator we’re getting has the most advanced collimator, or beam shaping device, on the market. So, the precision of our treatments based on that alone has improved. It also has the ability to have better image guidance. So what that means is we are able to take a CT scan using the linear accelerator, and we can use that to perfectly align our patients to make sure that we are treating exactly what we are supposed to be treating and missing what we are supposed to be missing, which is even more important.”
With the new linear accelerator, some changes needed to be made to the linear accelerator vault located on the first floor of the VHC. Maitz detailed some of these renovations: “They don’t make accelerators as small and barebones as the one we had previously, so if we wanted to keep the same capabilities, we had to have a little bit larger of an accelerator. We didn’t actually expand our linear accelerator vault, but we did have to extend shielding for the new linear accelerator. Our room became a little bit smaller because of that, but in the process, we also used the opportunity to make it much more space efficient so we can really be focused on our patients when they’re down there.”
Mizzou is the first veterinary facility to purchase a new machine from Elekta, a manufacturer of linear accelerators. Maitz says the college is working toward becoming a show site. “If other veterinary or even human clinics are interested in this type of machine they can come and view ours. It’s another thing that’s really going to put the university out there.”
By Nick Childress