by Natalie Homan from In The Cloud Copy
In July of this year, doctors in Switzerland started using a new software program that will help them and many others more effectively map out radiosurgery procedures. These procedures are a type of radiation therapy used to treat tissues in the body that would be impossible to reach through conventional surgery.
What is Radiation Therapy?
Radiation therapy is most often associated with the treatment of cancer. In radiation therapy for cancer, beams of intense energy are shot out of a machine and precisely directed at the cancer cells in the body. This is usually done over a number of sessions. The high-energy beams kill the cancer cells by destroying their genetic material, making them unable to continue dividing. While doctors try to damage as little healthy tissue as possible, it’s nearly impossible to only hit diseased cells. Radiation therapy does damage healthy cells, but unlike cancer cells, healthy cells are usually able to repair themselves.
What Is Radiosurgery?
One other type of radiotherapy is called radiosurgery. Effectively, radiosurgery is surgery that is done with energy rather than with a knife, which means there are no incisions and the doctors can get to places they couldn’t by hand. Radiosurgery is used especially for brain tumors and nerve conditions and, unlike radiation therapy for cancer treatments, radiosurgery is usually done in a single procedure.
One of the tools that can be used for radiosurgery is the Gamma Knife. Acting in place of a knife, the Gamma Knife effectively does the same thing, accurately targeting and destroying unwanted cells through nearly 200 different beams of gamma rays. As with radiation therapy in cancer treatments, the doctor must ensure that as little healthy tissue is damaged as possible, which means that not only do the rays need to target the correct tissues precisely, but the treatment time needs to be as short as possible.
This can be a major challenge since the doctor can’t actually see the tissue on which they’re performing surgery. Instead, neurosurgeons work with other doctors to choose which areas to target, then they work out a surgical plan that outlines how many beams to use, what shape they should be, and how intense to make them. Creating a plan like this normally takes 20 to 30 minutes, but it can take much longer for more complicated procedures. The plan’s effectiveness obviously relies heavily on the experience of the doctors who create it.
A New Software Solution
A Swiss company called Intuitive Therapeutics has come up with a software program that can create these surgical plans for doctors, saving them time and sometimes even coming up with more effective plans. The software looks at how much radiation the diseased tissue needs and analyzes how much exposure the surrounding tissue can tolerate. Through a complicated mathematical formula, it creates an optimal plan for surgery in two to three minutes. Doctors who first used the program this year compared their manual plans to the software-generated ones and found that they could trust the new program fully.
As of now, this software only works with Gamma Knife devices. Intuitive Therapeutics is working to adapt it to be compatible with other types of radiotherapy equipment as well. This software is a promising example of how technology can help doctors optimize their time and expertise to help more patients and to do so as effectively as possible.
Learn more about this fascinating innovation here.