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The right dose of radiation

One of the challenges of treating cancer with radiotherapy is limiting the dose of radiation to which a patient is exposed, using only the amount necessary to eliminate cancer cells while taking care not to damage the healthy tissue surrounding them. Brazilian physicists have developed a new material that can serve as the base for radiation sensors that are faster and more sensitive than those currently used by radiologists. Luiz Carlos Oliveira and Oswaldo Baffa, from the University of São Paulo campus in Ribeirão Preto, and Eduardo Yukihara, from Oklahoma State University in the United States, produced a compound based on magnesium oxide (MgO) mixed with small portions of lithium, cerium and samarium. When illuminated by a laser, the new material emits an amount of light that is proportional do the dose of radiation to which it was exposed (Scientific Reports, April 14, 2016). The material is about 20 times more sensitive to radiation than that used in the best sensors used today, made of carbon-enriched aluminum oxide (Al2O3), and it responds extremely quickly to laser stimulation. “The new material is very sensitive to radiation and has a fast readout time,” Baffa explains. “This should permit scanning an extended area and obtaining an image of the dose distributed throughout the body of the patient,” says the researcher, who is patenting the material and expects to license it out to a technology start-up.