Advancing Radiation Treatments for Cancer
Forty per cent of Canadians will develop cancer during their lifetime. Although half of cancer patients undergo radiotherapy, researchers are still trying to answer fundamental questions about the interactions of radiation with matter and radiation dosimetry (the calculation of the absorbed dose in tissue resulting from exposure to ionizing radiation).
Dr. Rowan Thomson, Canada Research Chair in Radiotherapy Physics, is exploring radiation interactions with matter using computational and theoretical techniques.
Thomson has already led the development of fast and accurate simulation codes for brachytherapy, most recently egs_brachy (a versatile and fast Monte Carlo code for brachytherapy applications). Brachytherapy is a widely used radiotherapy treatment in which radioactive sources are placed next to or inside a tumour. However, accurately calculating radiation dose has long been a challenge; egs_brachy is advancing brachytherapy dosimetry. The code is already being used in cancer centres around the world to improve these treatments.
Now, Thomson and her research team are developing methods to study radiation interactions at cellular or subcellular levels. While cell components are widely regarded as the targets for radiation, energy deposition (the energy that gets absorbed before reaching a given target) on the cellular level is poorly understood. They are also investigating the possibility of delivering radiotherapy using nanometre-scale devices.
Thomson’s research will allow for more accurate planning and evaluation of radiotherapy treatments and lead to better cancer treatments. Her research will also advance our knowledge about radiation physics, which will have implications in other fields that involve radiation, such as diagnostic imaging and nuclear medicine.