Interview with Prof David Thwaites,

recipient of the Jens Overgaard Award at ESTRO 2024



David Thwaites

University of Leeds, UK

and University of Sydney, Australia


The Jens Overgaard Legacy Award stands as a tribute to his exceptional dedication to advancing scholarly science in Radiation Oncology during his 25-year tenure as Editor-in-Chief of Radiotherapy and Oncology.

Honoring his enduring contributions, the recipient of this prestigious award is invited to deliver a lecture at the ESTRO Congress, sharing insights and expertise in the field.


Congratulations on receiving the Jens Overgaard Legacy Award! How does it feel to be recognised for your outstanding contribution to promoting science in Radiation Oncology, following in the footsteps of Professor Overgaard?

Firstly, it’s always an honour to have your work recognised in this way, and that it has helped to develop and improve the scientific basis of the specialty and the service provided to patients. A significant part of this award recognises my fairly long period (1996-2020) as lead physics editor of the Green Journal. Therefore, secondly, I feel satisfied that I have contributed to promoting medical physics contributions to radiation oncology and to the journal and hence to their dissemination and translation into clinical practice. 


The award is named after Jens Overgaard, and it recognises contributions to promoting research. Can you share some insights into your own efforts to advance the field through publications, and how they align with the goals of Radiotherapy and Oncology, known as the Green Journal?

Jens has been a consistently strong voice in ESTRO who has supported scholarly science in radiation oncology, as the foundation of evidence-based practice. ESTRO’s mission includes the promotion of innovation, research and dissemination of science, partly through its congresses, educational initiatives and publications. The Green Journal’s goals have always been closely aligned with that. My efforts in a range of ESTRO roles, including the editorial group, have always been aimed at developing this promotion for medical physics within ESTRO’s multi-disciplinary approach and structures. With specific reference to research and publications, my own as well as via the editor role, I have aimed to improve the quality of science and published research for the benefit of patients, always from the standpoints of clinical relevance and application. 


As a flagship publication in ESTRO's family of journals, Radiotherapy and Oncology covers all aspects of radiation oncology. How do you see the journal's role in shaping the discourse and progress of the field, and what impact do you hope your contributions make within its pages?

After its foundation in 1983, Radiotherapy & Oncology soon became one of the leading journals in the radiation oncology field, fulfilling the vision of its founding editor-in-chief, Emmanuel van der Schueren. It has continued to strengthen over time, which is a great tribute to its editors-in-chief, including Jens for over 25 years, and their editorial teams. It is recognised as an essential source for radiation oncologists and the other disciplines in the field of radiation oncology around the world, as well as a desirable publication route for their research. I hope my contributions have aided this, particularly for medical physicists in ESTRO and more widely.


Being recognised with the Jens Overgaard Legacy Award includes delivering a lecture at the ESTRO Congress. Can you provide a glimpse into the themes or key messages you plan to convey during your lecture, and, if applicable, how it ties into the legacy of Jens Overgaard and the goals of the journal?

I have an enduring interest in the history of science, particularly in relation to physics as applied to medical problems. I expect to begin briefly with some of this, specifically related to publication and relevant journals, and to consider the continual development of the field, with occasional paradigm leaps. I may also then consider some of the issues with establishing and evaluating evidence for technology developments in radiation oncology, given the problem that the evidence can’t be fully tested until there is a sufficient number of systems in place, by which time the installation of systems is already established.


Research plays a crucial role in shaping the landscape of radiation oncology. Could you discuss some current trends or developments in your research that you find particularly promising or impactful for the future of the field?

I recently formally retired, although I’m still involved in a range of research groups, programmes and projects. There are clear technology and technique research and practice trends in radiation therapy that are based on improved delivery systems, imaging capabilities, radiobiological understanding and modelling/planning, and that provide better target delineation, improved delivery precision, wider access to adaptive methods, improved motion management, greater access to other modalities, online biological guidance and increased use of hypo-fractionation, to name a few. Other clear trends in current medical physics research include the rapidly growing applications of automation and artificial intelligence, including machine learning, deep learning and predictive modelling, as well as wider aspects of data science; all of these require careful implementation, verification and management to ensure safe exploitation of their benefits. In addition, there is a growing need for different types of research to address global cancer issues, such as huge disparities in the provision of radiation oncology across different areas of the world.


Considering the evolving landscape of radiation oncology research, how do you see the role of scholarly publications in addressing current challenges and shaping the future of the field?

I’m answering this more on the evolving landscape of scientific publishing, regardless of specific specialty challenges and trends. This is a time of change in academic journal publishing, which has moved more and more to open-access, with different financial structures from publishers. It has become relatively easy for new online journals to be set up, with varying approaches to peer review and the meaning of the term. The important thing for us (ESTRO) is to ensure that in our specialty, and in the journals we can influence, the same level of scientific rigour and quality is maintained in the scholarly evaluation and review process, to ensure that published research evidence is of the highest quality. This requires strong independent editorial leadership that is strongly concerned with such quality. In time, if Radiotherapy and Oncology becomes fully online, I am sure this will be maintained. ESTRO and Elsevier have already done this well for the three newer ESTRO online journals, ctRO, phiRO and tipsRO


For aspiring researchers and contributors to the field, what advice would you offer based on your own experiences and success in promoting research in radiation oncology?

This is an easy one to answer: have clear objectives for your research work, set it up and carry it out within a clear framework of high scientific standards for design, execution and reporting (e.g. for planning studies see the RATINGS guidelines), and then submit your work to the ESTRO journals!


Finally, as the recipient of the Jens Overgaard Legacy Award, what message would you like to convey to the broader community of radiation oncology professionals about the significance of scholarly science and the role of publications such as Radiotherapy and Oncology in fostering advancements in the field?

I hope I have conveyed my thoughts on this already in the answers I have given! Ensuring that good research is published is essential, not for careers and CV metrics (although these become important drivers for authors), but so that high-quality research is critically evaluated for dissemination and wider translation into clinical practice. In this way, research isn’t just a narrow effort to answer a specific question, but is added to the wider evidence base and the continuous quest to improve the quality of patient treatments and outcomes.