Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Strahlenbiologie und Medizinische Physik
Société Suisse de Radiobiologie et de Physique Médicale
Società Svizzera di Radiobiologia e di Fisica Medica
Swiss Society of Radiobiology and Medical Physics

Bulletin 1/2001 (April 2001)
Bulletin 1/01







Vorstand SGSMP


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SASRO Honorary Member 2001
Prof. John Robert "Jack" Cunningham

During the SASRO 2001 Meeting in Lugano, the keynote lecture was delivered by this year's Honorary Member - Prof. John Robert Cunningham.

He was introduced by Wolf Seelentag:

Dear colleagues and guests - Dear Jack, It is a great pleasure and an honour for me to welcome you here, and to introduce you as today’s keynote speaker, our new SASRO Honorary Member: J.R. Cunningham. "J.R." stands for "John Robert" - but I guess this will be the only time I mention your „official" name - as all of us are much more familiar with "Jack" Cunningham.

Jack had been a shining example for me long before we met: my basic radiation physics I had learned from the Johns&Cunningham book "The Physics of Radiology". We met the first time almost exactly 25 years ago, during the International Congress of Medical Physics in Ottawa - my first international congress, and when we enjoyed a boat trip as one of the social events, I had already survived my presentation. We stood next to each other to fetch some food, and looked at each other’s name badge; I guess I was a bit afraid to say much - so Jack greeted me with the words "Seelentag - are you a relative of THE Seelentag?". I responded "yes - and are you THE Cunningham?": he nodded and smiled. It was this open attitude of an acknowledged senior physicist with world wide reputation towards a young PhD student he had never met before, which impressed me as much as his knowledge. In the meantime we have met on many other occasions, and I’m proud to call you my friend, Jack.

Jack was born 1927 in Saskatchewan - and has always given me the impression that he was proud to be Canadian. He got his M.Sc. at the University of Saskatchewan and his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. He had gained experience in several related fields before he met his "professional destiny": in 1958 he started as Medical Physicist at the Ontario Cancer Institute and Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto - and he stayed there until his retirement - I mean the "official" retirement; he never has really retired, and is still consulting for Theratronics. He had been Chief Clinical Physicist at the Ontario Cancer Institute, Professer of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto, worked for IAEA as Technical Expert in (then) Ceylon, has contributed to many scientific panels and organised quite a few conferences. If I would quote all his achievments, not much time would be left for his keynote lecture!
The same would be true for his many publications - let me just mention again "The Physics of Radiology", which he co-authored - now available in a fourth edition.

Apart from being a teacher for a whole generation of Medical Physicists, he has made a major impact on radiation oncology directly - let me mention only two subjects.

1. His institute was involved in building one of the first Cobalt treatment units. He presented this history (and why it's difficult to decide which was actually the first such device) during the International Congress in Nice in 1997. Anyway - this unit was further developed by Atomic Energy of Canada, nowadays known as Theratronics, and marked the beginning of "high voltage radiotherapy".

2. The second big development a little bit later was the introduction of computers for treatment planning. And here Jack was deeply involved as well. His concept of separating primary and secondary components of the radiation beam, modifying the primary component for e.g. wegdes or body contour, calculating the resulting secondary component, and then adding up both contributions was the introduction of physical models into this field, rather than just describing empirically the influence of such factors on measured dose matrices. But I better let the "original" himself talk about this, and the further development to the Equivalent Tissue-Air-Ratio model.

A man of his standing was and is obviously involved in several professional societies - to mention just a few: Jack is a Founding Member and Fellow of the Canadian College of Physicists in Medicine, Fellow of the Canadian Association of Physicists, Fellow of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, Life Member of the Association of Medical Physicists of India - and now, most important of all - at least for the audience in this room, Honorary Member of SASRO ;-)! In his keynote lecture he will talk about "The Emperor's New Clothes - or - An Historical Look at the Use of Computers for Treatment Planning". Predictions are always risky: a colleague biologist is claimed to have sent a fax back home from an oncology congress in the 1960s: "get rid of the Cobalt unit and install rat cages instead - for drug experiments". I'm not sure whether this anecdote is true, or just well invented - but I'm glad the prediction didn't come true: otherwise we wouldn't be here this morning to listen to Jack Cunningham; I'm sure he will not only talk about history - but will still risk some comments about the future. It's a great pleasure for me now, to hand over the microphone.

Jack Cunningham at the SASRO 2001 conference dinner, in the company of Jean-François Valley (left) and Wolf Seelentag.
The other two photographs show Jack Cunningham in 1958 with a "X-otron" Cobalt unit, and in 1967 together with Joe Milan (standing) at the first "PC", the "Programmed Console" - the first dedicated treatment planning system.

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