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NIH Grants $13.7 Million to Radiation Oncology Project in Collaboration with ME

Kazuhiro Saitou

A team of faculty in Radiation Oncology, in collaboration with faculty in Mechanical Engineering, has recently been granted an award of over $13 million by the National Institute of Health.

The project, titled “Optimization of High Dose Conformal Therapy,” focuses on an advanced cancer treatment called Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT). Kazuhiro Saitou, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has collaborated with the team, comprised of both practitioners and researchers. He explained that in the conventional radiation treatment, radiation beams from various directions can kill both cancer cells and healthy cells. Ideally, the beams should only be hitting malignant cells.  In order to facilitate a solution to the problem, the beam intensity must be modulated to conform the cross sectional shapes of the tumors in the direction of the beam paths, thereby minimizing radiation to healthy tissues and maximizing it for cancerous cells.

Saitou is responsible for a portion of the project that aims to improve the accuracy of deformable image registration (DIR) of patient’s CT images taken during the radiation therapy treatment. The treatment can last for weeks or months.  During the patient’s first visit, a high-resolution CT image is taken of the cancer tissue. When the patient comes in for his or her subsequent visits, a lower resolution image is taken. Deformable image registration compares the two images and identifies the corresponding features between them, such as tumors, bones, organs, and fat. 

This is the first step necessary for adjusting radiation beams in the course of treatment in response to the changes in tumor.  By incorporating biomechanical models of bones and tissues, Saitou and the group intend to overcome the accuracy limit to the conventional information-based DIR techniques.

The grant award is through the P01 program, the largest program at NIH, and is estimated to equal $13,731,090. The project period lasts from June 15th, 2014 up until May 30th, 2019.  The grant applies to the hospital’s clinicians and medical researchers, as well as other researchers from various units across the campus including Mechanical Engineering.

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