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Dr. James Robar: revolutionizing radiation technologies

Archie Stewart

By Kathryn Gallant

Dr. James Robar has dedicated his career to helping improve the lives of patients undergoing radiation therapy.

Through research, teaching and clinical application, Dr. Robar, who serves as the Chief of Medical Physics at Nova Scotia Health Authority, has helped develop innovative techniques that have contributed to better patient care not only in Nova Scotia, but across the world.

“If we are doing our jobs as medical physicists, we are not just providing technical and clinical support, but we are applying our scientific training to benefit patients through innovation, Dr. Robar said in a recent NSHA interview. Medical physicists are responsible for the safe and effective distribution of new technologies for diagnosis and treatment. Upon Dr. Robar’s arrival to the former Capital Health in 2003, he noticed that there were technologies that would transform the care of patients receiving radiation, but they simply weren’t being used.

In a short period of time, Dr. Robar and his team started applying these technologies to patients in the Department of Radiation Oncology. As a result, Dr. Robar was able to match the radiation inside the patient to the 3-D shape of the tumour, which minimizes exposure of the surrounding healthy tissues and reduces side effects that lowered patient quality of life.

One of these side effects, known as xerostomia, or loss of saliva production, was reduced, leading to improved quality of life for patients treated for head and neck cancer.

Today, Dr. Robar is pursuing multiple research projects designed to improve radiation therapy. One of these projects is the invention of a new technology that is able to sense the position of the patient’s head in real-time and with greater precision during radiosurgery of brain tumours.

In addition to improving accuracy, this technology makes the procedure more comfortable for the patients, as it eliminates the need for invasive devices that keep the patient’s skull from moving.

“Early in my career I realized that doing this kind of research and development can benefit thousands of patients with a single technology,” Dr. Robar said.

Dr. Robar shares his philosophy with the next generation of medical physicists as the Director of the Medical Physicist Master and Doctoral Programs at Dalhousie University. These programs allow students to gain hands-on experience in the clinic and apply scientific methods learned in the classroom to real-life health care issues.

In recognition of his impactful work, Dr. Robar received the 2016 Professional of Distinction Award at the 14th Annual Discovery Awards for Science and Technology.

The prestigious Professional of Distinction award, presented by the Discovery Centre, recognizes a world-class researcher or developer who demonstrates ingenious and innovative thinking in the creation of unique ideas, concepts, perspectives and processes within their field.

He was one of seven 2016 Discovery Award winners honoured during a celebration gala held this past November at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel. Every day, Dr. Robar strives to achieve excellence in his work, knowing his efforts contribute to better patient care and experience while they undergo rigorous healing procedures.

For more information on the 2016 Discovery Awards: http://thediscoverycentre.ca/support/discovery-awards
Watch the 2016 Professional of Distinction Award nominee video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhtGllsSBZo