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Optimizing Radiation Therapy
Software applies mathematics and
engineering principles to medicine.
by JOHN TOON
THROUGH EXTERNALLY-APPLIED BEAMS or “seed” implants, radiation therapy provides a valuable tool for treating cancer. But its effectiveness depends on the ability to target cancer cells with appropriate radiation doses while sparing healthy tissues.
photo by Gary Meek
Associate Professor Eva Lee uses mathematical optimization techniques originally developed for the industrial world to help doctors produce the best results from radiation therapy. Here, she holds an ultrasound image of a prostate. (300-dpi JPEG version - 920k)
Associate Professor Eva Lee is using mathematical optimization techniques originally developed for the industrial world to help doctors produce the best results from radiation therapy. Her work has already produced a software planning tool that helps physicians optimize the placement of radioactive seed implants used to treat prostate cancer.
Licensed to California medical software company Prowess, Inc., the software is now undergoing U.S. Food and Drug Administration review and could be available for clinical use within months. The system, to be known as Panther Inverse Brachy, would be integrated into operating room computers to help plan brachytherapy operations and analyze their progress in real time.
“We can improve the local tumor control from 65 percent with traditional planning techniques to 95 percent with our automated planning software,” says Lee, who holds a joint appointment at Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Emory University’s Department of Radiation Oncology. She has collaborated with New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on the optimal cancer therapeutics.
courtesy of Eva Lee
Research under way at Georgia Tech and Emory University has already produced a software planning tool that helps physicians optimize the placement of radioactive seed implants used to treat prostate cancer. (300-dpi JPEG version - 920k)
Using complex mathematical algorithms, the software helps ensure that prescribed levels of radiation reach tumor cells while minimizing exposure to nearby bodily structures. Connected to an ultrasound probe that detects the location of each seed, the system allows physicians to re-optimize the placement plan while the operation is underway. Future enhancements would account for variations in the prostate shape and volume caused by swelling, and for actual location of cancer cells within the gland.
“Right now, everybody has to treat the prostate as a homogenous mass,” Lee notes. “We will be able to tailor the plan to target where the cancer is located within the prostate.”
Pioneered for prostate cancer therapy, the optimization tools could also be used in treating breast, cervical, brain and other cancers using seeds, as well as to improve the effectiveness of external beam radiation. By customizing treatment for specific patients, the software could reduce outcome differences related to the experience of physicians.
Beyond treatment planning, Lee is working with researchers at Emory’s Department of Cardiology to analyze changes in the body’s vascular system as a potential early warning for tumor development. As they grow, tumors need new capillaries to feed them nutrients and oxygen. By using pattern recognition software to study abnormal capillary changes, researchers might be able to detect early signs of cancer.
The technique which uses fluorescence microangiography images could also help with diagnosing heart disease, diabetes and other conditions that cause changes in the microvascular system. “The capillary system tells you a lot about what’s happening in the body what is growing, what is dying and how things are evolving,” she explains.
Lee’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Whitaker Foundation.For more information, contact Eva Lee at 404-894-4962 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Last updated: July 7, 2004