Like traditional radiation therapy, the release of energy disrupts the
internal chemistry of the affected cells, damaging their DNA and thus
preventing them from reproducing or even performing their normal
metabolic functions. The cancer cells thus destroyed are then subject
the body's own cleansing mechanisms which flush the dead tissue out of
The details of mapping the beam's path are daunting, since a nozzle
must be used to simultaneously deliver multiple proton beams from
different angles each with different energies. The problem -- besides
the expense of a week's worth of high-priced labor -- is that while the
doctors and technicians are plotting out the paths for the beam to
follow, the tumor continues to grow, thus making success less likely.
IBM's solution is to use a supercomputer to quickly plot out the
necessary path for the proton beam to follow, presenting numerous
alternative therapy plans to the attending physician in just 15 minutes
(instead of a week). As a result, by the time that patients can be
shuttled from the MRI or CT scanner to the proton-beam therapy room,
they can be treated immediately, ensuring that the tumor has not had
time to grow further, thus greatly enhancing its chance of success.
automation techniques to proton cancer treatment, we also improve the
model that predicts what happens when beam hits tumor, compared to
manual methods, said Nassif. "It produces thousands of different way to
perform the treatment, just like it produces thousands of alternative
ways to optimize chip fabrication."
Working with its partners at the University of Texas's Anderson Medical
Cancer Center (Houston) IBM is hoping to reduce the cost of proton
therapy by as much as 60 percent, as well as speed-up the treatment
planning time using Power7 cluster supercomputers, which perform the
computational tasks up to 1000-times faster than the manual methods used
by doctors today.