Professor Bentzen is the recipient of this year’s International KFJ Award at Rigshospitalet. He has a background in radio physics from Aarhus University. Later he achieved a PhD in medical image formation and became a DMSc with his dissertation on the side effects of radiotherapy. Shortly after, he moved away from Denmark and built up an impressive career. First in the UK at the Gray Cancer Institute in London, then nine years as Head of Research at the University of Wisconsin. Earlier this year, he moved on to head a research department at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
Over the past six years, Professor Bentzen has developed an important working relationship with the international research communities in the Department of Radiotherapy at Rigshospitalet. For instance, several PhD students and senior researchers from Rigshospitalet have completed study visits to Professor Bentzen’s department in Madison, Wisconsin and now in Baltimore. Many collaboration projects are in progress, particularly regarding modelling the risk of late complications following radiotherapy, in which Professor Bentzen has unique expertise.
Collaboration advances cancer treatment
“The collaboration we are about to develop between Rigshospitalet and the University of Maryland is a prime example of how the best of two research communities can be brought together and generate new knowledge which we would probably never achieve without this collaboration. I’m the head of a group of researchers in Baltimore, who are experts in developing new tools for data analysis. And Rigshospitalet has a very large cancer department with a consistent high standard of treatment and exceptional documentation of results. The expertise in the two departments brings us to the forefront in the field. Together we have data, we have the methods, and we can collaborate!,” said Professor Bentzen, and he added:
“There are also interesting new treatment methods within radiotherapy for cancer on which much of my research is focusing. For instance, in the summer 2015 we will open a large treatment centre with five treatment rooms for particle therapy in Baltimore. We would also like to collaborate on this with Rigshospitalet.
Focus on customised treatment
The collaboration with Professor Bentzen also has a direct impact on patients.
- “Each year, huge amounts of patient data are generated within medicine. The amount of data from medical image formation in one year alone exceeds the amount of data in all research libraries in the US. This is a goldmine of information! But someone has to dig up the gold. This is what we are trying to do with our research. We must utilise these huge sets of data to procure new knowledge, find new treatments and improve existing treatments. We have become much better at customising treatment to the individual cancer patient. Not so many years ago, all patients with a certain type of cancer were given the same treatment. Now we are able to base our treatment on the detailed data we collect on the individual patient to a much higher degree. Actually, there is a system, and if we can find these correlations, we can choose the treatment that provides the best balance between treatment effect and side effects.
This may sound very dry and theoretical, but it’s actually very, very interesting. And the most exciting thing is that the results of our research are used in practice to improve treatment of cancer patients,” said Professor Bentzen.
Rigshospitalet’s International KFJ Award plays an important role in this connection.
- “All medical research is dependent on funding. Unfortunately, allocation of research grants is often rather conservative, meaning that it’s easier to receive funding for established projects which are already in progress and close to the finishing line with regard to results. It’s much more difficult to receive money to start up a new project and perhaps particularly for international collaboration reaching beyond national borders. Many foundations supporting research prefer the money to be spent within national borders. Support from the KFJ Award is therefore very important. It gives us a chance to start new projects which, hopefully, can grow strong enough to attract funding from elsewhere,” said Professor Bentzen, who is very pleased about the award, both professionally and personally.
“This means so much to me. Not only because of the personal recognition in being chosen as the award winner in a field of very strong researchers, but also because this is an acknowledgement of the research area in which I work. Today, research is very much a team game, and the KFJ Award is a huge pat on the back; not only for me, but for the entire research team. The International KFJ Award is a very prestigious award thanks to the generous donation from the Kirsten and Freddy Johansen Foundation. Moreover, although the award recognises the efforts the recipient has made so far, it also looks forward: The majority of the money has been earmarked for future research collaboration on improving cancer treatment between Rigshospitalet and, in my case, the University of Maryland in Baltimore in the US. This is a nice thought by the people behind the award. Where we are from is not so important; it's all about where we are heading...” said Professor Bentzen.