Georgia Tech Opens New Radiotherapy Lab for Training and Research

Georgia Tech recently opened a new laboratory with state-of-the-art radiation therapy equipment dedicated solely to research and education, making it one of the only universities in the nation with this unique capability.

The Radiation Science and Engineering Lab will provide hands-on training to students in Georgia Tech’s Medical Physics and Nuclear and Radiological Engineering Programs, as well as continuing education for medical physicists currently practicing in the field and research opportunities for faculty.

Georgia Tech’s lab includes top-of-the-line technology for delivering image guided radiotherapy and radiosurgery, including a brand new medical linear accelerator with beam shaping and imaging accessories.

“What’s unique about this laboratory is that this is the only one in the country at a university where the laboratory is completely dedicated to research and education,” said Farzad Rahnema, chair of the Nuclear and Radiological Engineering and Medical Physics Programs at Georgia Tech.

Medical physicists are experts who assist oncologists with the safe and effective delivery of radiation therapy in which high-energy radiation is used to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. Nearly half of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy during the course of their treatment.  A linear accelerator uses microwaves to accelerate a stream of electrons to relativistic velocities to create high-energy radiation to treat cancer.

Georgia Tech graduate students studying to become medical physicists will have unprecedented access to the machine so they can master calibration, beam data commissioning, linear accelerator service troubleshooting and other techniques before they graduate.

In other programs, students typically have to wait until after therapy hours at a hospital or clinic to have access to radiotherapy equipment for labs. Even then, they aren’t able to adjust settings and master the machine since the machines are monitored and maintained for patient treatment.

“Here we have the freedom not available in the clinical environment to change the settings and push the machine to the limits,” said Eric Elder, assistant professor and associate director of Medical Physics at Emory University Department of Radiation Oncology, and adjunct assistant professor of Medical Physics and the director of the new lab at Georgia Tech. “This allows students to get hands-on experience and get more individualized attention. This is extremely beneficial.”

The lab also has sophisticated treatment planning software and an oncology information system so students can learn how to manage cancer treatments using real-world techniques.

Professionals in the southeast will also have the opportunity to get additional training on the linear accelerator, which will advance treatment in the field, experts say.

“Radiation oncology medical physics is a field that can change rapidly and professionals don’t always have the opportunity to learn new techniques,” Elder said. “With this lab, we can reach out to practicing medical physicists – regionally, nationally and internationally – and offer training on the latest and greatest technology.”

Georgia Tech faculty and Emory faculty who are adjunct at Georgia Tech will also use the machine for research on diagnosis and treatment of cancer, including improving image-guided radiation to provide real-time imaging of the tumor target and low dose calculations to reduce radiation exposure in non-targeted parts of the body.

The radiotherapy equipment was given to Georgia Tech by an anonymous donor. The lab is located in the Boggs Building, home of the Nuclear and Radiological Engineering and Medical Physics Programs in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. The new lab includes a clinical linear accelerator and a control room, housed in the new Radiological Science and Engineering Laboratory in the basement of the Boggs Building; and a computational treatment planning laboratory with 10 FDA approved workstations on the 3rd floor of the Boggs Building.

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