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The goal of radiotherapy is to target the radiation dose to the tumor volume while minimizing the dose to the healthy normal tissue that surrounds the tumor, thereby reducing side effects. The Omnibeam radiation treatment system, developed at Beaumont, achieves this aim by using accurate live tumor imaging to ensure delivery of the highest dose possible precisely at the tumor to destroy cancer, limiting normal tissue exposure.
As a complement to these developments, in the laboratory we are using pre-clinical models to investigate how normal tissues responds to radiation injury that occurs during radiotherapy. The long-term aim of these studies is to develop methods of reducing normal tissue damage, thereby allowing more of the radiation dose to be targeted to the tumor in order to increase treatment efficacy.
An extension of this work is to determine how pulmonary infections, from bacteria and fungi for example, affect the tolerance of normal lung tissue to radiation therapy. Fungal infections produce temporal changes in pulmonary signaling molecules, leading to alterations in lung architecture that influence how healthy tissue responds to radiation injury. We have established that asymptomatic pulmonary infections from common fungal species prolong the effects of radiation damage in the lung. This results in an extended period of repair, which is required for the architecture of the lung to fully recover and return to normal after radiation treatment. These data indicate that normal lung tissues are less tolerant of radiation damage when a combined injury is present.
The importance of this ongoing work is not relegated solely to the clinical sphere. In fact, these results also have an application with regard to occupational safety as well as Homeland Security. By equipping first responders and clinicians alike with the critical knowledge of normal tissue response to radiation, the most efficacious treatment can be delivered in the event of a radiological incident.