The Biophysics Laboratory, located in the Cancer Research Building on the campus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, houses an advanced clinical instrumentation prototyping laboratory, a 3D micro device and micro sensor foundry, and a preclinical image guided microirradiation facility to evaluate the therapeutic potential of novel chemo-radiotherapy cancer treatments. Specific research projects are defined to fulfill the needs of our cancer patient population and to provide the best and most effective medical care.

The Biophysics Laboratory is under direction of Dr. Enrique Izaguirre, Director of the Medical Physics Program.

Program Objectives

  • Become a leader in the development and validation of paradigm shifting radiotherapy devices and algorithms to contribute to the advancement of radiation therapy and the enhancement of favorable treatment outcomes for cancer patients.
  • Develop malignancy specific micro-devices to investigate new chemo-radiotherapy approaches to lead the discovery of novel anticancer drugs and radiotherapy dose fractionation regimens and improve the treatment of cancer.
  • Provide preclinical evaluation of innovative cancer radiotherapy treatments, drugs, and techniques by using biologically and dosimetrically accurate biological models to enhance the ability to translate novel cancer therapies from the laboratory bench to the clinical practice. 

The Biophysics Laboratory has three main areas of research designed to apply data acquired from both the clinical and laboratory settings to generate evidence-based novel cancer treatments and improve patient care.

Development of cutting-edge clinical devices

With the present external beam treatment delivery technology, dose escalation is the most promising approach to achieve statistically significant improved outcomes. We are partnering with leading radiotherapy companies to integrate our in-house developed devices and software with their latest treatment technologies to help advance our clinical practice and provide the upmost treatment efficacy and patient safety.

  • The development of novel real-time imaging dosimeters for intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). We are nationally recognized leaders in the development of novel real-time detector and sensor technologies to enable in vivo monitoring and dose verification in external beam IMRT and SBRT. Implementation of these detectors will improve treatment accuracy and safety in external beam radiotherapy by measuring and forecasting the accuracy of a treatment when only a fraction of the treatment has been delivered. Considering that most of the dose escalation trials have shown improvements in treating cancer of various origins, the significance of assuring the safety and accuracy of dose escalation will have a strong impact on a large number of patients and on the current practice of radiotherapy.
  • Implementation of intensity modulated HDR brachytherapy (IMHDR). High dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy requires high temporal and spatial resolution for source accurate timing and positioning. However, compared to the sophistication of image guided IMRT, the implementation of real-time imaging guidance and dose distribution modulation in brachytherapy needs to be developed and implemented in the clinical practice. To this end, we are redesigning HDR brachytherapy by combining CT anatomical with optical imaging co-registration, high resolution beam modulation and real-time treatment verification. We are developing techniques for micro-modulation of brachytherapy dose distributions by including heterogeneous density materials in personalized brachytherapy applicators. This method will allow us to shape ionizing irradiation dose distributions with millimetric resolution and to increase the flexibility in generating highly conformal dose distributions to spare adjacent critical organs. We are integrating our technology for real-time spatio-temporal dosimetry into commercial or printed applicators to have an in vivo verification of the true dose delivered during a treatment session. By combining real time dosimetry with optical CT co-registration, we will be able to craft IMHDR brachytherapy as an error free treatment technique.

Evaluation of novel chemo-radiotherapy cancer treatments

Dose escalation is one of the most promising strategies to advance radiation therapy efficacy. Equally promising is the development of molecular drugs to enhance the effectiveness of radiotherapy, protect organs at risk, and/or deliver chemo-radiotherapy treatments. We are developing 3D microchips based on nano-biosensing and microfluidic principles to provide malignancy specific and personalized platforms for rapid and accurate evaluation of the therapeutic potential of new or personalized treatments. Projects are chosen according to the demographic and treatment needs of our patient population. Cell microirradiation is performed using our image guided microCellRT instrument developed by our team to perform spatiotemporal correlated image guided microirradiation with synchronous cell visualization.

  • We are developing microfluidic devices with embedded micro-sensors to quantify the complex interaction between chemotherapy and radiotherapy at the molecular level in order to improve our understanding of novel cancer treatments. Our image guided cell irradiator equipped with a micro-fluidic platform for controlled cell micro-environment provides the required instrumentation to accomplish studies and to determine the bio-molecular processes of drug uptake and the therapeutic effectiveness of innovative drugs when combined with ionizing radiation. A key element of our approach is the application of custom built 3D micro-devices to target specific cancer tissue and to investigate treatment parameters under scrutiny. The micro-devices are fully compatible with the microCellRT, high resolution fluorescence imaging and microbeam irradiation.

To schedule a project using the microCellRT please contact Dr. Izaguirre at eizaguirre [at] westclinic [dot] com.

Radiotherapy Preclinical Trials

Radiotherapy preclinical trials are designed and conducted using our in-house developed preclinical microirradiator, the microIGRT. The instrument is a dual gantry microCT+microRT scanner capable to perform image guided orthovoltage irradiation of cancer models with micrometric precision and dose distributions scaled-equivalent to clinical external beam radiotherapy. The microIGRT was built to study the therapeutic benefits of novel adjuvant chemo-radiotherapy in cancer models that mimic clinical treatment procedures and ionizing radiation dose distributions scaled to preclinical cancer models anatomy.

  • Preclinical studies are required to perform quantifiable and translatable preclinical evaluations of new chemo-radiotherapeutic therapies. We are invigorating the progress of translating novel cancer therapies by designing and performing preclinical radiotherapy protocol assessments using our image guided microirradiation instrument, the microIGRT. The microIGRT is capable of delivering treatment techniques that mimic clinical dose fractionation schedules with distributions scaled to the anatomy of preclinical cancer models. Anatomical imaging is acquired using the built-in high resolution microCT, and functional imaging from other modalities can be co-registered to evaluate tumor response.
  • Our rigorous validation process of the preclinical experiments implemented in our image guided irradiator allows researchers to acquire supporting data for the formulation of clinical trials for novel chemo-radiotherapy treatments. The preclinical irradiation facility provides researchers the imaging and irradiation resources required to launch collaborative projects across the institution and with external collaborators. Examples of projects accomplished using our instruments include the study of radiation induced complications in healthy lung tissue and the evaluation of new radioprotectors designed for glioma treatments.

To schedule a project in the microirradiation facility, please contact Dr. Izaguirre at eizaguirre [at] westclinic [dot] com.