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“I never knew there was a chance I was in for it”

“I never knew there was a chance I was in for it”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Dissertation Prize for MAASTRO researcher Mark Podesta

MAASTRICHT. His enthusiastic co-operation with researchers, the quality of his thesis, and his contribution towards better treatments for cancer patients, were three reasons why the Dissertation Prize 2017 went to Dr Mark Podesta, postdoc at MAASTRO clinic, last Friday. The faculty deans nominated a total of five theses, but Time dependent verification of dynamic external beam radiotherapy turned out to be the best.

34-year-old Mark Podesta (Dublin, Ireland) knew about the existence of the prize, but thought that it would go to one of the “high-level professors with their large research groups”. “I never knew there was a chance I was in for it.”

Podesta is not a doctor but he is a medical physicist who loves technology. “The work on my thesis involved a verification of radiation therapy for cancer patients. The goal of my research was to improve the radiation camera that we use to record the actual treatment: how much radiation does the patient receive and in what area? That way we can catch errors, correct them and treat the patient better in the long term.” It was his job to turn the photo camera into a movie camera. That was successful, as a result of which “we now can check the treatment second by second”. It helps, moreover, in determining the correct dose of radiation.

At the moment, he works as a postdoc on equipment that will be used for the MAASTRO's proton centre, which is now being built. “Proton therapy is the future. It’s a different type of radiation. The therapy is more precise. You just hit the tumour and not the healthy parts around the cancer cells.”

Mark Podesta doesn't know yet what he will do with the 3,500 euro. But the prize money comes just at the right time. “My work in Maastricht ends on 14 February. ” He laughs when he sees the surprised look on the journalist's face: “It’s my own choice; I need some leave after more than ten years studying. I’m going to take a break with my recently graduated doctor/girlfriend. We are both finished now, so this is a logical moment to go travelling, something we have wanted to do for a long time.”

The destination still has to be determined. “After years of having our diaries filled with deadlines, we now don't want to plan anything, it has to be spontaneous, we will see.”

He sees himself eventually returning to scientific research. “Not in Ireland. In this field of research, the Netherlands is a far better option, it is one of the top three countries in the world. And Maastricht, with its small research group, is one of the top three in the Netherlands.” Only to finish off by saying: “I fear that all praise will now fall upon me, but I could never have done this without my supervisor Frank Verhaegen and the staff at MAASTRO.”






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