Personalized Radiation Shields May Protect Normal Tissues During Cancer Treatments Interview with:
James Donald Byrne, Ph.D., M.D.
Department of Radiation Oncology
Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, Massachusetts What is the background for this study?

Response: Radiation therapy is used as a treatment for more than half of all cancer patients and can be highly effective at shrinking tumors and killing cancer cells. But radiation treatment can also damage healthy tissue, including tissue in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. This tissue injury can lead to oral mucositis, esophagitis, and proctitis — painful and sometimes debilitating tissue damage. It’s estimated that these injuries occur in over 200,000 patients in the U.S. each year. Our goal was to develop personalized shields that blocked radiation from affecting healthy GI tissue. What are the main findings? What is the material in the shields? Would it be costly or difficult to make on a personalized basis?

Response: The devices work by using high atomic number (Z) materials to shield the surrounding healthy tissue. We used patients’ CT scans to personalize these devices so that they could comfortably and reliably fit to areas that are at risk for damage. The devices were tested in rats and pigs. In rats, we found that the devices provided a significant reduction in damage to the oral cavity and rectum. Feasibility testing in pigs revealed excellent reproducibility of placement in pigs. We also tested these devices in simulations of human patients, where we found that the devices could reduce radiation to areas in the mouth by 30 percent for head and neck cancer patients, and in the gastrointestinal tract by 15 percent in prostate cancer patients, without reducing radiation dose to the tumor. As a part of the study, we created a clinical workflow for seamless integration of the devices into radiation therapy. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: We have created a platform of personalized radiation shields that has the potential to profoundly impact patients undergoing radiation therapy. Additional studies will be necessary to translate the devices into everyday clinical use. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: This work was accomplished through the efforts of a large multi-disciplinary team. Moreover, the work would not have been possible without the support of our sponsors, including the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Joint Center for Radiation Therapy, and the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering.


Byrne, J. D., Young, C. C., Chu, J. N., Pursley, J., Chen, M. X., Wentworth, A. J., Feng, A., Kirtane, A. R., Remillard, K. A., Hancox, C. I., Bhagwat, M. S., Machado, N., Hua, T., Tamang, S. M., Collins, J. E., Ishida, K., Hayward, A., Becker, S. L., Edgington, S. K., Schoenfeld, J. D., Jeck, W. R., Hur, C., Traverso, G., Personalized Radiation Attenuating Materials for Gastrointestinal Mucosal Protection. Adv. Sci. 2021, 2100510.

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Last Updated on May 5, 2021 by Marie Benz MD FAAD