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IAEA Teams Up for Innovative and Sustainable Solutions for Cancer Care Education

Lenka Dojcanova

External beam simulation set up for treating cancers of the head and neck. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

For medical physicists Daniel Venencia and Bertha García Gutiérrez, 2021 was a busy year. Venencia, in his role as remote mentor, advised Gutiérrez, of Peru’s Auna Oncosalud clinic, on performing measurements for her PhD thesis in dosimetry for radiosurgery, a technique for destroying cancer cells using high doses of radiation. Once awarded, Gutiérrez will become one of the few medical physicists in Peru with a PhD. Medical physicists are health professionals working in cancer treatment who are responsible for determining the exact radiation dose to target cancer cells with minimal damage to healthy tissue.

Venencia, who is based in Argentina, was paired with Gutiérrez thanks to an IAEA doctoral coordinated research project (CRP). The goal of CRPs and other IAEA educational initiatives is to create innovative and sustainable partnerships with research institutions. But what is the benefit of such partnerships?

“The current global educational and training capacities still struggle to train a sufficient number of professionals to meet the great need for radiation oncology and radiation medicine professionals,” said May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Human Health. “Partnerships in education are essential as we continue to provide support to Member States and fill the gaps, including through the IAEA research programme’s doctoral CRP mechanism.”

By joining forces in education for cancer diagnosis and treatment with almost 30 global and national partners, the IAEA facilitates the development and sharing of the latest knowledge, data, technology, skills and research in these specialized areas.

We must encourage innovation in our educational tools; we aim to increase efficiency and effectiveness to fill the gap in the sector.”
May Abdel-Wahab, Director, Division of Human Health, IAEA

Building and sharing knowledge to combat global inequality

Collaborating with research institutions globally, the IAEA is helping specialists from regions with fewer training opportunities to obtain appropriate qualifications. One such example is a recently launched series of webinars organized by the IAEA and Ireland’s Trinity College Dublin, an institution with experience in building train the trainers programmes for radiation therapists (RTTs), who are responsible for preparing patients for radiotherapy treatment. Trinity College Dublin is also helping the IAEA to conduct a survey in a number of countries, assessing the barriers to implementing the curriculum for RTTs.

“At Trinity College Dublin, we are committed to providing the highest quality education to all health professionals working in the field of radiation oncology,” said Michelle Leech, Associate Professor in Radiation Therapy at the university. “We look forward to adding the Trinity expertise to that of the IAEA in tackling this global inequality and ultimately improving patient care.”

Another example is the ongoing partnership with the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States of America, which is specialized in paediatric treatment of diseases such as cancer. Under a 2019 agreement, experts from the hospital participated in IAEA training for radiotherapy professionals, and provided insights into the latest research in paediatric radiation oncology during the 2021 International Conference on Advances in Radiation Oncology (ICARO-3). Similarly, Boston Children’s Hospital, also in the United States of America, is working with the IAEA on a new research project to increase survival rates in children with cancer through improving nutritional support. Low and middle income countries, where a child is four times more likely to die of cancer than in a high income country, are especially able to benefit from these partnerships.

In addition to these efforts, the IAEA regularly enables health professionals to benefit from scientific conferences and meetings organized by partner organizations and institutions. In 2021 alone, the IAEA supported 5000 nuclear medicine and radiology professionals attending conferences such as the European Congress of Radiology.

The IAEA is also teaming up with external experts to identify and implement innovative solutions to help professionals gain and maintain the latest qualifications and skills. “We must encourage innovation in our educational tools; we aim to increase efficiency and effectiveness to fill the gap in the sector,” said May Abdel-Wahab.

One such example is the Comprehensive e-Learning Platform (CeLP), a set of disease-specific e-learning tools and modules that include micro-learning, multimedia and virtual reality, which involves collaboration with professional groups. Another result of a collaborative initiative is the TNM Cancer Staging App — a mobile app developed in cooperation with India’s Tata Memorial Centre and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The app gives doctors easy access to information, equal to a 1000-page book, on determining the level of treatment and prognosis for cancer patients, such as the extent of a tumour and lymph node spread.

In the area of radiology and nuclear medicine, in 2018 the IAEA and 26 other leading societies and organizations launched the first ever effort to assess the need for imaging and nuclear medicine resources worldwide; the Lancet Oncology Commission on Medical Imaging and Nuclear Medicine found dramatic inequalities in access to imaging resources and has outlined a compelling health economics case for countries based on data from the IAEA Medical Imaging and Nuclear Medicine Global Resources Database (IMAGINE). Through their accessibility, these and other collaborative initiatives support much needed innovative and sustainable knowledge and skills delivered to health professionals to all countries.


February, 2022
Vol. 63-1

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