Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

Steady as She Goes

When Steven Dubowsky saw the details of Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) planned proton beam therapy center several years ago, he immediately realized that its high-tech robotic apparatus for positioning patients was not nearly precise enough.

Dubowsky, a robotics expert at MIT and an advisor to the MGH facility, spent the next two and half years solving the problem. By writing an elaborate algorithm that compensates for imprecision inherent in the equipment and designing an array of sensors to detect the different sizes and shapes of patients, Dubowsky and coworkers at MIT improved the system’s accuracy by an order of magnitude. When the MGH facility, which will treat patients with inoperable brain tumors, opens within the next year, it will use software for the patient positioning apparatus based on Dubowsky’s work.

Proton treatment is favored over conventional X-ray radiation in treating some tumors precisely because it can target cells far more accurately. “The goal [of the facility] is to point a beam of radiation at the tumor and avoid treating nearby material,” says Michael Goitein, MGH’s project director. At least three other dedicated proton centers are being built in the United States. “I’m sure they’ll use this or similar software,” says Goitein.

This story is part of our May/June 1998 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

While the facility’s initial plans called for targeting the proton beam with an accuracy within a half-millimeter, Dubowsky says early tests confirmed his hunch: The system, which is being built by Ion Beam Applications, a Belgium-based company, was actually achieving accuracy no better than 5 millimeters.

Dubowsky holds his forefinger and thumb slightly apart. “That’s about 5 millimeters.” Then he closes the gap, nearly touching his finger to the thumb. “And that’s about 0.5 millimeters.” It’s not a huge difference. But it could be the difference between life and death.

Countdown to EmTech Digital 2019. Join us and be the AI leader your company needs.

Register now
More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to MIT Technology Review.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

    The MIT Technology Review App

  • All Access Digital {! insider.prices.digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The digital magazine, plus unlimited site access, our online archive, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    Digital magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

  • Print Subscription {! insider.prices.print_only !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six print issues per year plus The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Print magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.