Safer radiation for medical procedures

UTA researchers aim to mitigate damaging side effects of radiation imaging, treatments

Friday, Sep 03, 2021 • Linsey Retcofsky : Contact

Chie Yujie
Yujie Chi, UTA assistant professor of physics.

An interdisciplinary team of scientists led by a physicist at The University of Texas at Arlington is developing a new system to make the use of radiation in medical procedures safer for patients.

Ionizing radiation (IR) is used in medicine broadly in two ways: imaging and treatment. IR can cause cell damage and cell death, which makes it a pillar of cancer treatment in the form of radiation therapy. However, it can also be carcinogenic, triggering secondary cancer or other side effects.

Yujie Chi, UTA assistant professor of physics, received a three-year, $446,582 grant from the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute to design a system that improves the safety and effectiveness of IR. Chi’s co-investigators are Qiming Zhang, professor of physics, and Zui Pan, associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

“Studies show that radiation damage to DNA plays a pivotal role in the determination of an individual’s biological or clinical outcome after IR exposure,” Chi said. “It is essential to understand how IR produces this initial damage under different radiation conditions.”

To improve IR safety and effectiveness, researchers need to examine effects caused by advanced radiation scenarios using Monte Carlo simulation, a model used to predict the probability of different outcomes when random variables are present. The problem is that state-of-the-art simulation tools can’t produce the desired results. Common issues include low efficiency for large-scale simulation, lack of support of DNA models covering the entire cell cycle, large parameter uncertainties and poorly designed user interfaces.

“In this project, we propose to solve these issues by developing a next-generation Monte Carlo simulation tool for IR-induced DNA damage computation,” Chi said.

The researchers hope that their system will serve as a next-generation simulation platform for the calculation of initial DNA damage caused by IR. This would be a major step toward the goal of bottom-up, multi-scale modeling for the entire radiobiological process, thus making a significant impact in radiation medicine.

“Dr. Chi’s project is aimed at developing a fundamental understanding of how IR causes the initial stages of DNA damage under different radiation modalities and scenarios,” said Alex Weiss, professor and chair of the UTA Department of Physics. “Such an understanding has important implications for radiation therapy and can be expected to contribute to the safe and effective use of IR in medicine. With this study, Dr. Chi, Dr. Zhang and their colleagues are making vital contributions to the advancement of cancer treatment and improving human health.”

-Written by Greg Pederson, College of Science