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Husband-and-wife research team bring patient-focused expertise to MR-guided radiotherapy program

Radiation oncologist Dr. Bryan Traughber and his magnetic resonance engineer wife, Melanie Traughber, always dreamed of working together. Recruited by Penn State Cancer Institute and the newly formed Department of Radiation Oncology to lead its Magnetic Resonance (MR)-guided radiotherapy research program, they not only got their wish but also are drawing the attention of the national medical community for how they use imaging to treat cancer patients.

“You don’t know how advanced the two of them are and what an incredible find they are,” said Dr. Rodney Ellis, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, referring to their extensive scientific credentials. “The talent they bring is just world class.”

The pair came to Hershey for the opportunity to build a research program using the MRIdian LINAC by Viewray, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)-guided linear accelerator. Penn State Health installed the accelerator, one of only 18 units currently operating in the U.S., on the ground floor of the Cancer Institute after an extensive construction project to accommodate the MRIdian system. The innovative radiation delivery system sees and tracks soft tissue and tumors in real time, making it possible to fine tune treatment plans in ways that weren’t previously possible.

Bryan, who is vice chairman of radiation oncology research at the Cancer Institute, and Melanie, who serves as director of MR therapy research for Penn State College of Medicine, share a commitment to translating scientific innovations into tangible patient solutions, specifically with the MRIdian LINAC.

“We’re interested in doing things on the machine that other institutions haven’t done yet. For instance, use it to treat cancer in a new way. That is my job as a physician,” he said. “Melanie is building new technology that can be leveraged on the system to treat patients in a unique way that other centers aren’t doing.”

Married for 13 years, the couple have an easy rapport and similar approach to life that benefits their working relationship. Admitted workaholics, their research is always top of mind.

“We love what we do. Work is our hobby,” Bryan said, adding that they challenge each other a lot on their thoughts and ideas—something Melanie believes makes for good science. “While we’re cooking dinner at night, we’re talking research projects and updates on grants. With the exception of when we are sleeping, we are basically working.”

Introduced while completing fellowships at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., in 2005, Bryan immediately pictured their future together.

“I remember the first day I met her. I turned to my lab mate and said, ‘I’m going to marry her,” he said. Although he readily admits it took nine months to convince Melanie to agree with his plan, their relationship continued to evolve as they partnered both at work and at home.

“One of the primary reasons we work well together is that we have the same philosophy,” she said. “We look at where we would want our parents to be treated, what would be the best treatment, the best technology, the best clinical care. That is why I respect Bryan a lot. He treats each one of his patients, as if they were a family member.”

Convinced Penn State Health is a great network that aligns with their philosophy, Bryan joined the health system in September 2020. Melanie joined him in July 2021, and they welcomed the opportunity to build an MR-guided radiotherapy program from the ground up.

“The exciting thing is, we have a blank chalkboard. It is only limited by what we want to do,” Bryan said. “We’re excited about having cutting-edge imaging in radiation oncology to treat cancer patients.”

Melanie agrees.

“In the end, we both want to build something that helps patients,” she said.

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