Karen Kirkby

Prof

  • Wolfson Molecular Imaging Centre, Palatine Rd

    M20 3JJ Manchester

    United Kingdom

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Personal profile

Overview

Professor of Proton Therapy Physics - This is a joint post between the University of Manchester and The Christie Hospital , Karen is responsible for developing a programme of international leading proton research and innovation to deliver direct patient benefits. This goes from basic research, through pre-clinical and translational research to clinical trials.

Chair of National Proton Physics Research and Implementation Group

Chair Work Stream 4 for NCRI Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy Research (CTRad) Working Group

 

Biography

Karen Kirkby took up a post in Proton Therapy Physics in Manchester, England, UK in January 2015.  This post is funded by the University of Manchester and The Christie Hospital and is to lead the proton research in Manchester.  This will develop a research portfolio around the NHS funded (£125M) clinical proton facility at The Christie. Funding from The Christie Charity (£6M) has funded a research room to accompany the clinical facility.  http://www.cancer.manchester.ac.uk/radiotherapy/research/precise/

The research aims to address the key scientific and technological challenges for proton therapy.  These involve developing models that enable the proton dose to be biologically optimised to the tumour and its microenvironment.  It also looks at options for proton range verification and determination of stopping powers.  Other areas of interest involve how to image the tumour and compensate for organ motion and bring all of these factors in to the next generation of proton treatment planning software.

All of this research benefits from having the research room in the Christie PBT centre.  This room occupies the 4th gantry sace but instead of a gantry consists of beamlines and an engineering scanning nozzle which enables the proton beam to be scanned so that it emulates a beam exiting the nozzle in a clinical gantry.  At the end of the beamline, purpose built interchangeable research modules allow different experiments to be undertaken. 

Karen's interest in proton therapy dates back to the early 2000s where she led a programme funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for a  Network on Applications of High Energy Ion Beams.  This built a community which started to make the case for proton therapy in the UK.  This Network was rated as outstanding by its international referees.  It also led to a collaboration to build a vertical microbeam capable of irradiating cells, with sub-micron precision, with precisely counted numbers of ions.  This facility was funded by a prestigious grant from The Wolfson Foundation and was built at the EPSRC National Ion Beam Centre at the University of Surrey where Karen was prior to her appointment at Manchester.

Karen's interest in Ion Beams and their applications spans over 30 years and developed from an interest in radiation damage in  materials into the field of radiation damage in living cells and tissues and its application to advanced radiotherapy.  In the mid 2000 she was involved in 2 projects funded by Research Councils UK aimed at developing next generation accelerators, one LIBRA used laser accelerators and the other CONFORM led to the development of an electron NS-FFAG and a design study of an FFAG based around protons.  These two grants went on to provide the basis for a successful application to EPSRC for a Centre for Doctoral Training Centre in Applications of Next Generation Accelerators.

Karen worked with colleagues at Surrey to develop the Ion Beam Centre at Surrey into an internationally recognised centre of excellence in the applications of ion beams.  She has international collaborations with the Medical Applications group at CERN and sits on their collaboration board.  She also works closely with the Acoustics and Ionising radiation division at the National Physical Laboratory and Chairs the PPRIG (Proton Physics Research and Implementation Group) .  She is also a member of Work Stream 4 for NCRI Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy Research (CTRad) Working Group

Karen has a keen interest in doctoral training she coordinates a Marie Curie Initial Training Network (MCITN) SPRITE (and has been involved in a number of successful MCITN dating back to 2000 (CELLION, PARTNER, ENTERVISION, SPRITE).  While at Surrey she set up the Graduate Institute was Associate Dean for the Postgraduate Researchers.  She is also Academic Director of an EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training.

At Surrey she was Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, where she was successful in bidding for Surrey's EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Account (£3.85m) Impact Acceleration Accounts (£1.3m) and small equipment grant (£500k) she was also involved in the successful bid for the management of the National Physical Laboratory and developed the concept behind its Posgraduate Institute. In addition she developed her own funding portfolio and research group.

Karen has published over 175 peer reviewed journals including 2 in Nature.  She has also written for popular science magazines and newspapers.

Research interests

I am currently Professor of Proton Therapy Physics - This is a joint post between the University of Manchester and The Christie Hospital , I am responsible for developing a programme of international leading proton research and innovation to deliver direct patient benefits. This goes from basic research, through pre-clinical and translational research to clinical trials. With the £250M NHS investment in 2 clinical centres for proton therapy (one of which is at The Christie, the other at UCLH) we are in a unique position to draw the UK scientific, clinical and engineering communities together to establish a national research programme to underpin the development of this new treatment methodology. Proton research is also carried out within Radiotherapy streams of Manchester NIHR BRC and CRUK Major Centre grant.  The group also has PhDs funded by CRUK, EPSRC, STFC, NC3Rs, EC and The Christie.

I run two national Networks which aim to bring the clinical and scientific and engineering communities together.  the first of these is funded by STFC https://www.advanced-radiotherapy.ac.uk/.  The second, on Proton therapy is funded by EPSRC http://protontherapynetwork.com/.  I am also involved in the PBT and Health Economics workstreams of CRUK ART-NET grant.

We are developing a programme of research around proton therapy which goes from basic science through to translational research and on to clinical trials.  This is a multidisciplinary programme focussed on maximising the potential of PBT for patient benefit and  involving physical, biological and clinical scientists, engineers and clinicians.  More details of which can be found on the PrecIse web site.

My research has been focussed on the applications of on beams for over 30 years, my interest in proton therapy dates back to the early 2000s where I led an EPSRC Network on Applications of High Energy Ion Beams which built a community which started to make the case for proton therapy in the UK. This Network was rated as outstanding by its international referees. It also led to a collaboration to build a vertical microbeam capable of irradiating cells, with sub-micron precision, with precisely counted numbers of ions. This facility was funded by a prestigous grant from The Wolfson Foundation and was built at the EPSRC National Ion Beam Centre at the University of Surrey (http://www.surrey.ac.uk/ati/ibc/research/bio_medical/), where I was prior to my appointment in Manchester.

 In the mid 2000 I was involved in 2 Basic Technology projects funded by RCUK aimed at developing next generation accelerators, one LIBRA used laser accelerators and the other CONFORM led to the development of an electron NS-FFAG and a design study of an FFAG based around protons. These two grants went on to provide the basis for a successful application to EPSRC for a Centre for Doctoral Training CDT in Applications of Next Generation Accelerators.

I worked with colleagues at Surrey to develop the Ion Beam Centre at Surrey into an internationally recognised centre of excellence in the applications of ion beams. I also have international collaborations with the Medical Applications group at CERN and sit on their collaboration board. I also have close links with the ion beam community across Europe, North America, Japan and Singapore. I work closely with the Acoustics and Ionising radiation division at the National Physical Laboratory and Chair their PPRIG group.

I have a keen interest in doctoral training and coordinate a Marie Curie Initial Training Network (MCITN) SPRITE (I have been been involved in a number of succesful MCITN dating back to 2000 (CELLION, PARTNER, ENTERVISION, SPRITE). I also ran the Networking component of a large EU Infrastructure project SPIRIT.

I have been involved in a large number of projects aimed at Knowledge Exchange.  While at Surrey I was sucessful in an application to EPSRC for a Knowledge Transfer Agreement (£3.85m) and its sucessor Impact Acceleration Accounts

My collaborations

PSI, Switzerland, Prof Tony Lomax

GSI, Germany Prof Marco Durante

MGH, Boston USA Prof Harald Paganetti

Varian, Dr Michael Schillo, Dr Jan Timmy, Prof Ricky Sharma

Cambridge Universities NHS Trust, Addenbrookes Hospital  Prof Neil Burnet and Dr Raj Jena

Columbia University, New York Prof David Brenner

 

National Physical Laboratory Drs Giuseppe Schettino, Russell Thomas, Andrew Robinson

PTB, Germany Prof Hans Rebus

UBW, Munich Prof Guenther Dollinger

CNRS Bordeux  Dr Herve Sezenac, Prof Phille Moretto

CIBA, NUS Frank Watts

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

Institute of Physics

Methodological knowledge

 

STFC Global Challenge Network+ in Advanced radiotherapy STFC £915,000 (July 15 – Dec 19) PI

EPSRC Network + in Proton Therapy (May 16- Oct 20) £677,045 PI

CRUK ART-NET Advanced Radiotherapies Technologies £4.5M; 5 years, £800k to Christie/UoM (April 16 – Mar 21); CI

EU H2020 EMPIR Metrology for MR guided RadioTherapy (MetMRgRT), EURAMET Joint Research Project, €1.9M, 3 years; €150k to Christie/UoM; (Oct 16- Sept 20) CI

NIHR Biomedical Research Centre £28.5M; Advanced Radiotherapy stream ~£4M (includes PBT WP led by KJK) Christie/UoM (April 2017 – March 2021); CI

CRUK MCRC Major Centre £45M; Advanced Radiotherapy stream ~£4M (includes PBT WP led KJK) Christie/UoM (Oct 2017 – Sept 2021)

NIHR NC3Rs £90,000 Development of a biologically-relevant preclinical radiotherapy dosimetry phantom (Sept 2017 – August 2020) PI

EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training Applications of Next Generation Accelerators EP/j500094 £1,927,885 (Oct 11 – Sept 18) CI

Recently Completed

FP7 MCITN SPRITE(SPIRIT Postgraduate Research with Internships in Industry and Training Excellence) Coordinator with HZDR, ITN, CNRS,KUL, JSI, IFG, UPMC, UBW, RBI, ETHZ, IAEA, €3,537,036.71  4 years ( Jan 2013- Dec 2016)

NIHR Invention for Innovation(RSCH, NPL) ~£250k, 3 years April 2013-March 2016)

BIOQUART(subcontract from NPL on EMRP grant) €100k 3 years (April 2013 –March 2016)

EPSRC Ambient Pressure Mass spectrometry £1,241,591July 2011- June 2015

Applied for but no longer an applicant on as grant remained at Surrey EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account £1,445,757 ( October 2012- September 2015)

 

Qualifications

BSc Chemistry and Geochemistry University of Leicester

PhD Optical Properties of Ore Minerals Natural History Museum

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Optical Studies of the polished surfaces of some ore minerals, Natural History Museum

1 Oct 19811 Sep 1984

Award Date: 1 Jan 1987

Bachelor of Science, Chemistry and Geochemistry, University of Leicester

1 Oct 19781 Jun 1981

Award Date: 24 Jun 1981

External positions

Honorary Post, The Christie Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

12 Jan 201514 May 2026

Areas of expertise

  • QC Physics
  • radotherapy
  • proton therapy
  • ion beam applications
  • R Medicine (General)
  • radiotherapy
  • proton therapy
  • radiobiology

Keywords

  • proton therapy, radiotherapy

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