Dr. Brian Ruiz

As a scientist, Brian Ruiz, Ph.D., DABR not only loves to learn, he also loves to share what he learns with others. That’s why the Beaufort Memorial medical physicist was thrilled to be invited to speak at the 2022 American Association of Physicists in Medicine Clinical Conference earlier this year in New Orleans.

It provided the opportunity to share what he and the Beaufort Memorial radiation oncology team have learned about how to best treat breast cancer patients using one of the newest technologies in the radiation oncology field, the Varian Halcyon linear accelerator. 

Beaufort Memorial’s New River Cancer Center in Okatie was one of the first centers to use the new technology, designed to simplify and enhance virtually every aspect of image-guided volumetric-modulated arc therapy (VMAT), an advanced radiation therapy technique that delivers the radiation dose continuously as the treatment machine rotates.

According to Ruiz, who refers to the treatment as “surgery without the knife,” the machine is designed to provide treatments up to four times faster, be more comfortable for the patient, and allow for a more streamlined and efficient clinical workflow. 

“But with the Halcyon being such a new technology, there was not a lot of medical literature published on clinical implementation,” said Ruiz. “Being among the first groups to utilize this technology, we had to understand it and know how it functions and how to use it to improve clinical outcomes and the patient experience.”

As a medical physicist, Ruiz performs the important role of working along with the radiation oncology team to assure the accurate delivery of all aspects of a treatment prescription. The unique design of the Halcyon made treatment planning different from traditional radiation treatments, as it uses a new beam-shaping design to deliver treatment from different directions (or continuous arcs), sending a high dose of radiation to the cancerous tissue. In treatment planning, the team needed to look at each beam individually and analyze how therapy would be delivered.

“We needed to account for this technology’s diverging beam, making key adjustments to deliver the greatest cancer-fighting dose to the tumor, without providing too much radiation to surrounding, healthy tissues,” Ruiz said. 

By studying the new technology and testing unique treatment planning methods, the team was able to develop a process that administers radiation treatment more uniformly to target both the breast and the lymph node area to reduce the chance that the cancer can spread.

Ruiz was invited to share this and other early findings with other medical physicists from around the country at the conference.

“There are other physicists who are also learning to use this machine,” said Ruiz. “These findings may lead to further improvements in radiation treatment planning that could be transferrable to other radiation therapy delivery systems.”

Ruiz is hopeful that his research will continue to provide better outcomes for cancer patients. 

“Every patient who comes to us is a special, unique person. They are someone’s mom, dad, family,” he said.  “That’s why I’m focused on providing a level of care that is second to none.”