WVU researcher prototypes new equipment to improve cancer treatment

Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 11:42 AM EDT
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va (WDTV) - A West Virginia University researcher has developed a new technology that aims to improve head and neck cancer treatments.

Raymond Raylman and his team have prototyped a scanner that combines positron emission tomography and X-ray computed tomography. It has shown promising results in recent preclinical testing.

In the future, researchers say the scanner may lead to equally promising results in clinical testing.

“What makes this system unique is that it has much higher resolution than the standard PET/CT system,” Raylman, vice chair of research for the Department of Radiology and a member of the WVU Cancer Institute, said. “That’s because it’s designed specifically for head and neck cancer imaging. The typical scanner systems are general. They’re designed to image brain tumors, breast tumors, prostate cancer. Instead of doing that, we decided to design one just for head and neck cancer.”

One reason head and neck cancers tend to be so hard to treat is their size. By the time the typical patient receives a diagnosis, “the tumor can often be centimeters in diameter,” Raylman said.

In addition, as physicians plan and execute tumor treatment, they have to avoid sensitive areas nearby, like glands and muscles.

“This system is designed for estimating the edges of the tumor as accurately as possible,” Raylman said. “The more accurately you can assess the size, shape and spread of the tumor, the more accurately — and, hopefully, effectively — you can plan either surgery or radiation therapy.”

He and his team recently tested their system by using it to produce highly detailed images of simulated head and neck cancers. Now they’re seeking regulatory approval to test its performance on 40 cancer patients.

The prototype was made possible by funding from the National Cancer Institute, which awarded the project $1.9 million over five years.

It’s also the result of a collaboration between Raylman and his colleagues in the School of Medicine, advanced manufacturing experts from the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources’ Lane Innovation Hub, and Xoran Technologies, a manufacturer of X-ray CT scanners.

“Without the Innovation Hub, we couldn’t have developed the PET detectors,” Raylman said. “Their machining is way beyond something we could do.”