Cancer patients could soon be donning a personalized protection shield giving them an extra level of armor against radioactive toxicity while undergoing radiation therapy. More than 200,000 patients in the United States report injuries to healthy tissue from radiation exposure annually. A large portion of the damage occurs in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract leading to oral mucositis, esophagitis, and proctitis.

A team of researchers published a study in Advanced Science that outlines the personalized 3D-printed device that shields radiation from patients. The proof-of-concept was designed by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT.)

James Byrne, M.D., Ph. D., a postdoctoral researcher at Brigham and Women’s and MIT; senior radiation oncology resident physician at Brigham and Women’s; MGH; and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said their testing showed “Promising results. When we treat patients with radiation, we do our best to minimize the area of healthy tissue that receives radiation and break up treatment into small doses, but it’s a fine balance. We want to administer the most dose we can to shrink the tumor without causing damage to healthy tissue. Our goal through this project was to find an innovative solution that could offer personalized protection for patients.”

To develop the shield, several types of solid and liquid materials were used. Eventually, substances that block gamma and X-rays were chosen to reduce radiation backscatter. Custom-made designs from CT scans were produced from 3D printers. Rats and pigs were used to test the devices, focusing on whether they impacted the mouth and gastrointestinal tracts. Patients commonly experience side effects of radiation in the esophagus, small intestine, or gastrointestinal tract.

The encouraging results shows that the 3D shield successfully protects healthy tissue in the mouth and rectum of rats. In humans, the device could reduce mouth radiation by 30 percent for head and neck cancer patients. A 15-percent drop in radiation exposure could also be noted for prostate cancer patients without any dose reaction to the tumor.

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