The development of image-guided small animal irradiators represents a significant improvement over standard irradiators by enabling preclinical studies to mimic radiotherapy in humans. The ability to deliver tightly collimated targeted beams, in conjunction with gantry or animal couch rotation, has the potential to maximize tumor dose while sparing normal tissues. However, the current commercial platforms do not incorporate respiratory gating, which is required for accurate and precise targeting in organs subject to respiration related motions that may be up to the order of 5 mm in mice. Therefore, a new treatment head assembly for the Xstrahl Small Animal Radiation Research Platform (SARRP) has been designed. This includes a fast X-ray shutter subsystem, a motorized beam hardening filter assembly, an integrated transmission ionization chamber to monitor beam delivery, a kinematically positioned removable beam collimator and a targeting laser exiting the center of the beam collimator. The X-ray shutter not only minimizes timing errors but also allows beam gating during imaging and treatment, with irradiation only taking place during the breathing cycle when tissue movement is minimal. The breathing related movement is monitored by measuring, using a synchronous detector/lock-in amplifier that processes diffuse reflectance light from a modulated light source. After thresholding of the resulting signal, delays are added around the inhalation/exhalation phases, enabling the “no movement” period to be isolated and to open the X-ray shutter. Irradiation can either be performed for a predetermined time of X-ray exposure, or through integration of a current from the transmission monitor ionization chamber (corrected locally for air density variations). The ability to successfully deliver respiratory-gated X-ray irradiations has been demonstrated by comparing movies obtained using planar X-ray imaging with and without respiratory gating, in addition to comparing dose profiles observed from a collimated beam on EBT3 radiochromic film mounted on the animal's chest. Altogether, the development of respiratory-gated irradiation facilitates improved dose delivery during animal movement and constitutes an important new tool for preclinical radiation studies. This approach is particularly well suited for irradiation of orthotopic tumors or other targets within the chest and abdomen where breathing related movement is significant.
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Vol. 188 • No. 3