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Optimization Software Comes to Cancer Treatment

By John Teresko Researcher Eva K. Lee's goal is to apply the techniques of advanced mathematics to cancer treatment procedures. She says the benefit potential mirrors what math-based technology (also known as optimization software) already is doing for manufacturing applications -- maximize the ROI. (Her research credentials include industrial and systems engineering and radiation oncology via affiliations at both Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, and Emory University School of Medicine.) The ROI in Lee's treatment system comes from helping radiation oncologists optimize the placement of radioactive "seeds" for prostate brachytherapy, a non-surgical treatment that has been growing in popularity. Beyond providing treatment more precisely tailored to each patient, the system targets escalated doses of radiation at tumor pockets, and accounts for changes that occur in the prostrate volume during treatment. The challenge is analogous to optimization in manufacturing where typical problems include issues like how many plants are required, their location, what products they should produce, the number of distribution centers, etc. For example, enterprise solutions from Oracle Corp., Siebel Systems Inc. and SAP AG incorporate optimization software components from ILOG Inc., based in Mountain View, Calif., and Paris. Software automation of the optimization process brings another key advantage to both medical and industrial applications. Less experienced enterprise managers or physicians do not jeopardize results. Adds Lee: "To physicians, this will be a 'black box.' They will not need to know what is going on with the mathematics. All they will have to do is tell the system what they want in the plan." Lee is now seeking to commercialize the medical application. Meanwhile her research is continuing at Emory's Department of Radiation Oncology on a similar approach to optimizing external beam radiation treatment for brain and other types of cancer.

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