Oxygen sensors boost radiation therapy

Tumor hypoxia, the diminished supply of oxygen to malignant tissue, can be a serious barrier to effective cancer treatment. Higher radiation exposure is required to kill cancerous cells in oxygen-depleted portions of a tumor, but there hasn't yet been a practical way to measure oxygen levels in diseased tissue.

Researchers in Professor Cima's lab are now readying a suite of implantable oxygen sensors, which could be a solution to this problem. Gregory Ekchian, one of Cima's postdoc fellows, is responsible for bringing this technology out of the lab through research partially funded by a Lemelson-Vest grant and a Kavanaugh Translational Innovation Fellowship. Both of these DMSE initiatives support the transfer of ideas from academia into the world beyond.

The first clinical implementation of Ekchian's work incorporates oxygen-sensitive silicone into the tip of a catheter, which has small holes for interaction with the tumor environment. Once the sensor is embedded within a tumor, the oxygen content of the tissue can be determined by observing how much oxygen the silicone absorbs. If the researchers show they can successfully measure tumor oxygen levels during early clinical trials, a follow-up study will evaluate the use of that information to steer radiation to oxygen-deprived regions. Ekchian and other lab members The hope is that the sensors will ultimately prove useful in a broad range of medical applications.

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