Dr. Kieran Murphy
Dr. Kieran Murphy received the Leaders in Innovation Award from the Society of Interventional Radiology. (Photo: The Globe and Mail)

Surgery performed under X-ray guidance has transformed modern medicine, allowing for minimally-invasive operations (from neurosurgery to gastroenterology procedures), reduced pain and shorter recovery periods for patients. It also means lower costs to the healthcare system.

But X-rays also subject patients, and especially doctors, nurses and technologists, to ionizing radiation, causing molecular changes in the body's DNA that have been linked to elevated risks for cataracts and cancerous tumours.

"It's scary; we are exposed to vast amounts of radiation over a career," says Dr. Kieran Murphy, an interventional neuroradiologist at Toronto Western Hospital who uses imaging-guided technology to fix fractures, perform biopsies and kill tumours in the spine, for example.

Medical professionals such as Dr. Murphy can take precautions, including wearing lead shields and lead-lined glasses, and they sport badges that monitor their radiation dosage. But it's impossible to avoid some exposure, he says.

"It's a risk we bear because of our vocational commitment to patient care," says Dr. Murphy.

Disturbed by reports of injuries among his colleagues, Dr. Murphy found the answer to the problem in a chat he had with his mother-in-law seven years ago, as she prepared for breast cancer treatment. She showed him a list of things she'd been instructed not to take before radiation therapy because they could reduce its effectiveness.

"They were all anti-oxidants," recalls Dr. Murphy, who, after viewing the list, then went on a walk with his dog Cora and met a fellow dog-owner who made anti-oxidants. They fell into conversation and were soon working together, making anti-oxidants that could be taken in advance of radiation exposure, in order to lessen DNA damage.

The result was an anti-oxidant cocktail developed in collaboration with researchers at Dalhousie University that includes quercetin, extracted from apple skins. The cocktail, which Dr. Murphy calls Coramed in honour of his dog's role in the discovery, is currently in clinical trials.

After extensive research, the first clinical study was carried out using 10 patients undergoing diagnostic radiation and was funded by donors who supported the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre Innovation Committee.

"Without that, we wouldn't be at this stage; it was a very, very important step for us," says Dr. Murphy, noting that the trial showed the premedication treatment to be beneficial in reducing DNA breaks in the blood of patients exposed to diagnostic radiation.

PMCC Magazine 

The third annual Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) magazine published by The Globe and Mail focuses on why Canada's premier cardiac centre is known for being "the heartbeat of innovation." The magazine explores the PMCC model that supports the creation, development and evolution of innovative ideas into action – making "today's idea, tomorrow's practice." It also examines the impact that a culture of innovation has on the way cardiovascular care is delivered now and into the future.

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