NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

Harry Potter inspires professorial inaugural lectures

Professor Karen Kirkby, Advanced Radiotherapy Programme Lead, gave her professorial inaugural lecture asking if protons are magic.

At the Manchester Cancer Research Centre earlier this month, in a Harry Potter referenced, double billing with Professor Neil Burnet, Karen spoke about ‘Proton Beam Therapy: unlocking the Chamber of Secrets with Science’.

With her husband, Professor Norman Kirkby and daughter Abi, in a capacity audience, Karen outlined her career to-date, radiotherapy’s numerous benefits, the history and physical properties of protons, and the future opportunities presented by this exciting technology.

Professor Kirkby’s interest in protons started in the early 2000s and she moved from the University of Surrey to Manchester to lead proton research in 2015.  She was appointed to the Richard Rose Chair in Proton Therapy Physics at The University of Manchester.

Karen leads one of the four programmes – new indications and combinations with protons – in the Manchester BRC Advanced Radiotherapy theme.  Essentially, the programme is examining genetic variations which increase risks for both radiotherapy and proton therapy patients, and establishing a patient sample biobank to support future proton research.

Protons were discovered in Manchester over a hundred years ago. The current use of protons in clinical treatments has come about through amazing developments that enable us to precisely target tumours using powerful computing technology and proton beams that are travelling at two thirds the speed of light. It’s a very exciting time with the proton beam centre at The Christie due to open this year. Treatment in Manchester will be cutting edge.

Professor Karen Kirkby

Tim Illidge, Professor of Targeted Therapy and deputy lead in the Advanced Radiotherapy theme, introduced the two speakers who followed tradition by wearing their academic robes.

Professor Neil Burnet, who was appointed Chair in Clinical Academic Proton Therapy at The University of Manchester this year, continued the boy wizard theme with a lecture entitled ‘Proton Beam Therapy: unlocking the Chamber of Secrets for patients’.  Neil used his lecture to compliment the Manchester research community on its collaborative approach and “big ambitions”.  His research also contributes to the Advanced Radiotherapy theme.