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Physicist teams with cancer centre to reduce treatment waits

Windsor, ON – A University of Windsor physics researcher is working with a medical physicist at the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre (WRCC) to develop a new system to reduce the time that cancer patients have to wait for radiation treatments.

Dr Chitra Rangan, an assistant professor in the department of physics, is working with WRCC medical physicist Jeff Richer and Wayne State University graduate student Mark Sak, on developing a computerized genetic algorithm to speed up a process required to plan a cancer patients radiation treatment.

“Almost all treatments in hospitals are based on fundamentals of physics,” said Dr Rangan. “My role as a non-medical physicist is to take some of the new and exciting developments in physics and translate them in such a way that they will help the medical community.”

When medical physicists plan intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), a precise type of radiation treatment for cancer patients, the treatment beams are evenly distributed based on a three-dimensional model of the patient derived from imagining on a CT scanner. Sophisticated optimization algorithms are employed to modulate the intensity of the radiation beams in order to avoid harming any of the vital organs near the cancer.

Currently, planning an IMRT treatment can be time consuming, sometimes taking hours to complete a single patient plan. The system Dr Rangan has helped to develop utilizes a genetic algorithm to optimize the treatment beam angles used in planning IMRT treatments, which can reduce overall planning time from hours to minutes.

“It certainly has the potential to increase our efficiency in planning for IMRT patients,” said Mr Richer.

The UWindsor research team has received $20,000 from the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre’s local investigator research fund. It is also a partner in a project led by Dr. Tams Terlaky of McMaster University, funded by the Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems (MITACS), one of the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence. That projects goal is to apply recently developed state-of-the-art optimization algorithms to solve physical design problems with existing software.

“We should be ready to do phantom tests by April and then, depending on how fast we can develop software to interface with the software that is commercially available now, we should be able to use it on real patients in another year,” said Dr Rangan.