by Ken Brown

Researchers at the University of California in San Diego are using GPUs as part of an effort to save the lives of people diagnosed with cancer, the second-leading cause of death in the U.S.

We visited Moore’s Cancer Center at UCSD last month to find out what the research team is doing. Here’s a short video we put together from that visit.

Leading the research is Professor Steve Jiang, executive director of the Center for Advanced Radiotherapy Technologies at Moore’s Cancer Center. He said about two-thirds of cancer patients in the U.S. are treated with radiotherapy, which has proven effective for many cancer types.

Radiotherapy delivers a lethal dose of radiation to the tumor to kill cancerous cells. The treatment is complex and specific to each patient. The radiation beam parameters have to be tailored to each patient’s case through a process called treatment planning.

Treatment plans are generated based on a snapshot of the patient’s anatomy prior to treatment, and then delivered over a number of weeks. Unfortunately, the treatment method can’t keep up with the patient’s anatomy, which can vary from day to day due to changes in the tumor’s size and position. This anatomical variation compromises the success of the treatment.

Jiang has developed a new approach called online adaptive radiotherapy (ART) that replaces the static process with a dynamic one.

Using GPUs, the medical team can process the pictures and develop a new treatment plan in a few minutes. The new technique can significantly reduce radiation administered to healthy tissue, while focusing more radiation on the tumor itself.

Professor Steve Jiang

Jiang says, “Over the past few years, we have developed a series of novel GPU computational tools to achieve online re-planning with both accuracy and real-time efficiency. Our work will facilitate the clinical realization of online ART, which represents a quantum leap forward in cancer radiotherapy.”

Jiang’s technique will enter clinical trials this summer at Moore’s Cancer Center. His colleague, Dr. Arno Mundt, professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Medicine at UCSD, says the outcome of these trials could have a profound impact on cancer treatment in the U.S. and, potentially, worldwide.

We wish Jiang and his team all the best in their research.