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Funding for virtual training system

27 March 2008

People immersed in the virtual world of a radiotherapy treatment room.

Immersed in the virtual world of a radiotherapy treatment room.

The Health Minister, Edwina Hart, recently announced that the Department of Radiography, School of Healthcare Studies (SOHCS), has been successful in its bid to ‘NHS Capital Expenditure Scheme’ for funding to install Virtual Environment Radiotherapy Training (VERT) at Cardiff University. Dr. Paul Brown who led the £358,000 bid along with colleagues Keren Williamson and Lynn Mundy, said “the money will be used to set up a ‘virtual reality’ system within the academic setting, where therapeutic radiography (radiotherapy) students can gain ‘hands-on’ experience of using the linear accelerator treatment machines in a safe environment, in preparation for, and alongside their clinical training”. Radiotherapy is a treatment for patients with cancer and some non-malignant disorders which utilises the biological effects of high energy xrays and other ionising radiations. A course of radiotherapy may be given on its own or combined with other treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy. The Department of Radiography, Cardiff University is the only centre for training Therapeutic Radiographers in Wales with 20 therapeutic and 35 diagnostic radiography students per annum. Therapy radiographers are involved in many stages of a patient's treatment: 

  • providing pre-treatment information and support to patients in initial referral clinics;
  • planning the radiotherapy treatment;
  • being responsible for the day-to-day accurate application and evaluation of the treatment;
  • managing of radiotherapy side effects;
  • providing post-treatment follow-up and support.
Close-up of two people in the virtual radiotherapy treatment room.

The virtual radiotherapy treatment room in close-up.

Tracking the user through a series of sensors VERT creates a simulated environment which is then projected onto screens via the computer software. The user (student) is immersed into the ‘virtual world’ of a radiotherapy treatment room and is able to perform the usual functions undertaken in ‘setting up’ a patient for their radiotherapy treatment and associated tasks.

It is envisaged that students would be in a ‘training’ set-up similar to that of the real clinical situation, the benefit of which would be a greater amount of time available to practise than may sometimes be possible within a busy clinical environment. This should enable them to become more confident and competent in undertaking the technical aspects of the therapeutic radiographer’s role. VERT also allows students to learn important concepts, and to practice techniques in a safe environment, where no harm can come to student, machine or patient. It is possible to set-up accidents/errors and ‘see’ the consequence of these within the patient in relation to misdirection of the radiation beam/s, a situation which is impossible in the actual clinic setting. It also has some additional advantages in relation to anatomical learning and teaching capabilities, as well as possible future expansion into other disciplines. VERT has been devised by a team from Hull University (Vertual) in conjunction with several universities and radiotherapy departments across England.

People wearing 3D glasses, operating handset for virtual world.

Setting up a real-life situation in the virtual reality room.

The funding will enable the Department of Radiography to install a dual projector system within Ty Dewi Sant on the Heath Park campus with a higher specification than those within other UK universities. It will also pump prime a research initiative undertaken with Professor Nick Avis, School of Computer Science, Cardiff University and possible collaboration with the University of Illinois in the United States, to look at developing
applications in anatomical modelling and possible uses in the clinical training of other healthcare disciplines.

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