Researchers are developing personalized, 3D-printed shields to protect patients during radiation therapy

April 22, 2021 13:56 IST

Boston (Massachusetts) [US], April 22 (ANI): In a newspaper, a team of researchers describes efforts to develop a new 3D-printed device aimed at shadowing patients undergoing radiation therapy and preventing radiation-induced toxicity.
The work to date has been conducted in preclinical models and uses simulations to predict effects in humans, laying the foundation for clinical trials for patients. The study led by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT, was published in the journal Advanced Science.
Radiation therapy is used as a treatment for more than half of all cancer patients and can be extremely effective in shrinkage of tumors and killing cancer cells. But radiation treatment can also damage healthy tissue, including oral and gastrointestinal tract. This tissue injury can lead to oral mucositis, esophagitis, and proctitis – painful and sometimes debilitating tissue damage. It is estimated that these injuries occur in over 200,000 US patients each year.
“When we treat patients with radiation, we do our best to reduce the area of ​​healthy tissue receiving radiation and split treatment into small doses, but it’s a good balance. We want to administer the maximum dose that we can shrink the tumor without causing damage to healthy tissue, “said lead author James Byrne, MD, PhD, postdoctoral researcher at the Traverso laboratory in Brigham and MIT and senior resident doctor in Radiation Oncology in Brigham , MGH, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Our aim through this project was to find an innovative solution that could offer personalized protection to patients.”
Byrne collaborated with a multidisciplinary team on the job, including experts in radiation oncology, physicists, mechanical engineers, and gastroenterologists.

“It is not uncommon for gastroenterologists to be called to consult on a case to support a patient who is experiencing the side effects of radiation in the esophagus, small bowel or anywhere else in the gastrointestinal tract,” said corresponding author C. Giovanni Traverso, MB, BChir, PhD, gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer in the Department of Gastroenterology at Brigham and MIT. “A few years ago, James and I started brainstorming – what if we could develop a shield that could help protect a significant portion of normal tissue in the radiation field?”
Byrne and colleagues tested a wide range of materials – solid and liquid – in form to build the radioprotective shields. The team focused on high atomic number (Z) materials, which can prevent gamma and X-rays from passing through, and other materials to reduce radiation backscatter. Using patient CT scans, the team created designs unique to individual patients and used 3D printing to produce them. They tested their shields in rats and pigs.
They found that the shields could protect healthy tissue in the mouth and rectum in rats with good viability and reproducibility of location in pigs. In simulations of human patients, the team estimated that the device could reduce radiation to mouth areas by 30 percent for head and neck cancer patients, and in the gastrointestinal tract 15 percent in prostate cancer patients, without reduce radiation dose to the tumor.
The authors note that this work is an initial proof-of-concept study and will require additional investigations to translate the devices for use in the clinic. However, their results so far suggest that personalized shields may help reduce the risk of radiation toxicity.
“Our results support the functionality of personalized devices for reducing the side effects of radiation therapy,” Byrne said. “This personalized approach could apply to a variety of cancers and has the potential to reduce the burden of radiation injury and toxicity to our patients.” (ANI)