Korea, whose nuclear power is at the sixth in the world, is being officially acknowledged as technological donor by IAEA. Nevertheless, in fact, Korea has not lead the regional cooperation project of IAEA/RCA. In this regard, the Korea Cancer Center Hospital, which has adopted radiotherapy technology to the body and vitalized it, and has led the field of cutting-edge radiotherapy technology, submitted the project proposal related to SBRT therapy technology to IAEA/RCA. And as the proposal has been selected, Korea finally joined the ranks of RCA countries of 2012-13 RCA. Thanks to this, Korea has become the project leader country in the human health field for the first time. In the interview with Cho Chul-Koo, Director General of Korea Cancer Center Hospital and Director General of Medical Heavy Particle Accelerator Agency, who laid out the foundation for informing the Korea's cutting-edge radiotherapy technology to the world as the project leading country of RAS6065, he talked about the background of the project selection and future challenges.
Q: :What is the background to introduce and lead RAS6065 project in Korea?
A :The RAS6065 project is a project to disseminate Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT), the cutting-edge radiotherapy technology to 16 RCA member states among IAEA member countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The project is the IAEA's formal technological cooperative project, which transfer technology by providing regional training courses for doctors in the field of radiotherapy and radiation physicists and sending experts to the 16 countries from this year to 2015. In addition, it is the first IAEA/RCA project which Korea leads in the human health field.
Korean learned radiotherapy technology from the US and Japan, but now it boasts the technology at the level of advanced countries. In particular, it has expanded the application scope of SBRT and increased the success rate of the radiotherapy. Now Korean's radiotherapy technology reach the level which can be disseminated across Asia. Korea has outstanding radiotherapy technology, but it hasn't been recognized in the world. In this regard, the Korea Cancer Center Hospital developed a project item based on techniques and performances of the cutting-edge radiotherapy field and submitted the proposal to IAEA.
Korea Cancer Center Hospital is the first and only national radiotherapeutics institute in Korea and it introduced Cyberknife, the robotic radiotherapy treatment system to Korea for the first time to treat cancer patients through SBRT therapy. In November 2010, the institute completed 2,500 cases of Cyberknife treatment for the second time in the world, and among the cases, 1,523 cases were for the treatment of stomach tumors. These efforts have allowed the country to surpass Japan to become Asia’s No.1 country in SBRT, playing a leading role in the field of high-tech radiotherapy technology. As a result, South Korea has become a lead country in regional cooperative activity of IAEA/RCA projects.
SBRT is one of the technologies the IAEA is greatly concerned with. Starting with conducting SBRT research on lung cancer and holding conferences in 2006, the organization has shown growing interest in the technology. Therefore, we think that our proposal for the project is timely. In particular, the IAEA expects that the project will not only help treat cancer patients in developing countries, but also contribute to a high rate of treatment success and an improvement in patient convenience.
Q :What are the result and details that come out from your recent IAEA/RCA Project Planning Meeting?
A :The main agenda of the meeting included examining the current situation of radiotherapy in the Asia-Pacific region, reviewing cutting-edge radiotherapy promotion programs by country and establishing detailed action plans on regional cooperative projects. National project coordinators assigned by 16 governments visited South Korea and reported the current state of radiotherapy by country, and from that, decided detailed action plans for the next 10 years and each country’s projects.
Under this scheme, we plan to spread SBRT to radiation oncologists and medical physicists in the RCA member states by holding Regional Training Couse on liver cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer every year by 2015. To that end, we will develop teaching materials for Regional Training Couse, and those participating in the course will go back their countries to offer their own educational programs with the same materials. Also, we will provide lectures and consultations by sending experts for training courses run by countries. And to continue cooperative activities after the project, we will establish a cooperative network by designating regional centers in the regions.
Meanwhile, as part of Project Planning Meeting, the coordinators visited Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital and Korean Cancer Center Hospital that have high-tech radiotherapy technologies. Most of them were deeply impressed with the country’s advanced medical facilities and surprised by the infrastructure and the level of cutting-edge radiotherapy treatment facilities.
Q :What is the main task of South Korea as the lead country?
A : Under IAEA/RCA regional cooperative projects, the chief director of the lead country spreads technologies to countries in the Asia-Pacific region through designated national project coordinators from the participating countries. So South Korea as the lead country of the project will be in charge of various activities, such as developing teaching materials, providing training course and sending experts. Especially, therapy protocol Korea Cancer Center Hospital developed will be supplied to Asia-Pacific area and will be designed to include therapy of primary forms of cancer and to reflect situations in developing countries to able these countries to continue SBRT therapy through the existing linear accelerator even though cyber knife equipments do not exist.
There are 17 member countries in RCA, an umbrella organization of IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and except New Zealand, 16 member countries say they want to participate in this local cooperation project. Participating nations in this conference show a lot of expectations and interests in the introduction of SBRT technology. In the IAEA/RCA local cooperation project which recommends member countries to hold conference or have a training exercise alternately, Singapore, China and Australia said they wanted to attract local training exercise, and Mongolia hoped to attract a conference on progress in the middle of the project which will be held in 2014. And South Korea which leads the project plans to hold a local training exercise in the second year when supply of therapy technology about forms of cancer is addressed after basic education course is finished, and hold a conference on progress in the end of the project.
In addition Singapore, India and China applied for candidate countries which can have local base centers, and many countries like Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Mongolia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh show their interests in participating in the project by demanding South Korea to send SBRT therapy experts to them.
Q :What is the ripple effect of this project on development and progress in radiation therapy in developing countries?
A :SBRT technology has a short treatment period and provides a highly curative effect compared to the existing radiation therapy. Most patients in developing countries have no choice but to leave their home receive therapy in large cities during the radiation treatment period because radiation treatment infrastructure are scarce in these countries. Not a few patients who cannot afford to receive treatment in large cities give up their lives. If the treatment period is curtailed by supplying SBRT technology to developing countries through the project, it will be expected to contribute enhancement of the quality of life.
And the SBRT technology, a high radiation therapy technology, which needs an accurate radiation investigation technology and a deep understanding of radiation biology, will take radiation therapy technology in developing countries in Asia-Pacific area to a higher level through this education training project.
Q :Would you tell us some examples of global co-operative projects that it has launched?
A :Being a government-run institute in radiation medicine, the law mandates that it cooperate both locally and globally in research and development of radiation medicine. So the institute has supported countries in the East Asia-Pacific region, its cutting technology-wide, and helped Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Taiwan set up Cyberknife centers SBRT-wise, part of the RAS6065 Project. And working with PACT (Program of Action for Cancer Therapy), it will implement training projects for radio therapy this year in Vietnam, Mongol, and Sri Lanka, which are some of model demonstration sites selected by IAEA.
Q :What should the Korean government and its related agencies do for the RAS6065 Project to be successful?
A :Becoming an IAEA/RCA Project Lead Country requires not only an advanced level of nuclear technology but concerted efforts from related agencies, needed in the process of multi-lateral cooperation. The institute won in a competition for the RSA6065 Project with the support of the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology along with efforts from Korea Cancer Center Hospital, RCA Regional Office, and Korea Nuclear International Cooperation Foundation. It can now implement the RCA’s leading project in medical treatment for the first time.
There has been a lot of systemic support for successful implementation; especially for the recent Project Planning Meeting, Korea Nuclear International Cooperation Foundation’s integrated support system was helpful, with which IAEA officials and international participants voiced satisfaction. As the RAS6065 Project reflects well on Korea’s heightened global status, it is important that the government and related agencies work together closely and their sustained support and attention should be guaranteed by 2015 when it is completed.
Q :What change could take place in domestic radiation treatment after 2015?
A :Korea’s global standing in radiation treatment advances, and as a nuclear technology exporter, encompassing regional centers appointed in the process of completing the project, is expected to be a mecca for spreading SBRT technology and research and development in the East Asia and Pacific region. Regarding particle therapy, seen as the latest technology in radiation treatment, “Medical Particle Accelerator Development Plan” (MPADP) conducted by Korea Cancer Center Hospital with the Department of Education, Science, and Technology in charge is attracting much attention of participating countries like India, so MPADP is expected to greatly contribute to developing and distributing particle therapy in the region going forward.