Tailor fitting a suit to a man
Like a tailor who must make various alterations to construct a perfectly fitted suit for a customer, a radiation physicist must refine the radiation plan to achieve the most effective therapy for a cancer patient. (Photo iStock)

Dr. Timothy Chan, Affiliate Faculty at Techna Institute and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, has developed an artificial intelligence (A.I.) tool to accelerate the planning of radiation therapy for individuals with oropharyngeal cancer.

The oropharynx is the middle part of the throat. When tumours arise there, radiation therapy must be carefully planned so that it can kill the cancer cells, while avoiding nearby organs such as the brain. Because of this, creation of the plan requires highly-trained specialists and can be time consuming.

To help speed up the planning process, Dr. Chan and his team created a new planning tool that uses A.I. to help radiation physicists create the most effective radiation plan for each individual patient.

The A.I. tool first consults a database of treatment plans for previous patients, then uses that knowledge to generate an approximate radiation plan for a new patient, before further customizing the plan to the patient based on their unique features.

"It is very much like automating the design process of a custom-made suit," explains Dr. Chan. "The tailor must first construct the suit based on the customer's measurements, then alter the suit here and there to achieve the best fit.

"Our tool goes through a similar process to construct the most effective radiation plan for each patient."

"For a group of more than 200 oropharyngeal cancer patients who received radiation therapy, our tool was able to design radiation plans that closely matched those designed by radiation physicists," adds Dr. Chan.

"With further development and validation, the eventual goal is to apply this A.I. tool in the clinic to help save time and valuable resources, while ensuring that patients receive the highest quality treatment."

This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Dr. Timothy Chan holds a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Novel Optimization and Analytics in Health.

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