As part of his work in high-energy particle physics, Prof. Yasar Onel has invented a scintillator that would be used in an ultra-fast radiation treatment for cancer.
Onel and his High Energy Physics group in the Department of Physics and Astronomy are working on developing a fast dose monitoring system using their recently patented radiation hard scintillator, and Large Hadron Collider technology. They are working with the University of Iowa Department of Radiation Oncology in the Carver College of Medicine on the “Midwest FLASH Lab: Developing Next-Generation Radiotherapy Delivery and Expertise at the UI” project, which was funded for $3 million over a three-year period using FY2023 Public Private Partnership P3 funds; principal investigators are John Buatti and Ryan Flynn in Radiation Oncology.
The US Patent and Trademark Office granted US patent number 11,307,314 on April 19, 2022, “Apparatus, system, and method for radiation hardened plastic and flexible elastomer scintillator,” invented by Onel and colleague Adjunct Associate Professor Ugur Akgun and assigned to the UI Research Foundation.
FLASH Radiotherapy, a new ultra-fast radiation treatment for cancer, has shown great next-generation potential in protecting healthy tissue while selectively destroying cancer tumors, but currently, available dose-monitoring systems used in radiotherapy facilities cannot accurately monitor/quantify the delivered dose at the nanosecond-level speed at which FLASH RT operates. The new prototype detector will be tested at the University of Iowa’s linear accelerator and Ohio State University’s new proton accelerator.
“This fast and high-resolution dose-monitoring system will make FLASH radiotherapy treatment safer for millions of patients who need it. The invention of UI scientists will enable rapid, accurate, and convenient multi-dimensional FLASH dosimetry, satisfying a significant need in the radiotherapy community,” Onel said.
The power of radiation has been harnessed for various purposes from energy production to X-Rays, CAT and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans, security applications, and others. For all these applications, the detection of radiation is a vital process and is commonly done via scintillators, which are transparent materials that produce light when radiation goes through and excites their atoms. The generated light travels to the edge of the scintillator to be detected by a light sensor. Then the detector signal is used to reconstruct an image, which happens to be a tumor image for a PET or a CT scanner, dose distribution within a body for medical dosimeters, or inside a container for security applications. The ideal scintillators are expected to yield a lot of light, have a fast response time, and be radiation hard. The accumulated effect of the radiation within the scintillator makes it less transparent, hence the produced light cannot travel within the scintillator. It is a challenge to create a scintillator that satisfies these prerequisites.
The UI High Energy Physics group working on the CMS experiment of the Large Hadron Collider project, discovered a “water equivalent,” elastomer-based scintillator with superior light yield, a fast signal, and high resistance to radiation. Water equivalent means this material has a similar mass and electron density to the human body. The base scintillator is also radiation hard, and it can be mixed with diﬀerent scintillating compounds to produce the required characteristics. “If this invention is developed and optimized for various medical applications, there would be a tremendous gain for the public,” Onel said.