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Improving Radiation Therapy Outcomes for Cancer Patients

With a patented algorithm to increase the precision and safety of radiation treatments, PhD student Lee MacDonald (MSc’14) hopes to help improve patient outcomes.

Innovation: Lee MacDonald (MSc’14) has created patented algorithms to increase precision and safety when delivering radiation treatments to cancer patients.

Foundation: The intellectual property, developed by MacDonald in conjunction with supervisor Dr. Christopher Thomas (MSc’95) and Dr. James Robar, director of Medical Physics programs at Dal, has recently been licenced to Germany’s BrainLab AG, fast-tracking its use in hospitals around the world.  

Inspiration: MacDonald, a PhD student in the Medical Physics program (which launched in 2014), became fascinated with radiation therapy while getting an undergraduate degree at Mount Allison University, where he worked on a research project on radiation physics. At the same time, his grandfather was undergoing cancer treatments in Halifax and he was offered a chance to tour the Nova Scotia Cancer Centre. “That was a real motivator to me to go into medical physics; to use the knowledge I had to try to make some contribution.”

In his words: “What we’ve seen is it shows some real benefit in patient treatments and can really minimize the dose to the healthy tissue in a patient. The total reward for us would be to see this help patients.”

Why it matters: The challenge when administering radiation therapy to patients is to target cancerous tissue while minimizing the dose on healthy tissue. MacDonald’s innovation works to solve the problem by first figuring out the safest route to a tumour in each patient—“the optimal angles of approach”—and to have the least amount of impact on healthy surrounding tissue while targeting cancerous cells.