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  • Thermal tomography is used to create three-dimensional images of skin damage due to radiation treatment
    Intellectual Property Available to License

    US Patent 7,365,330; US Patent 7,538,938
    • Three-Dimensional Thermal Tomography (3DTT) Advances Cancer Treatment (ANL-IN-06-017)

    The method allows more rapid, yet still non-invasive, detection and is expected to enhance the treatment experience for breast cancer patients. 

    Background and Need 

    Change in temperature over time (left) is used to calculate the 3-dimensional effusivity distribution (right). Each slice repres

    Because cancer cells grow more quickly than healthy cells, they are typically a few degrees higher in temperature. This attribute makes it possible to use thermal imaging to detect them. For this reason, passive thermal imaging is helpful in detecting breast cancer. In active thermal imaging, heat or cold is applied to an object and an infrared camera is used to observe the resulting temperature change. 

    Thermal imaging can be used to analyze even multilayered materials— making the methodology even more useful than conventional processes like X-rays, CT and ultrasonic scanning for such applications. 

    The Invention 

    A team of researchers from Rush University Medical Center and Argonne National Laboratory is using a 3-D technique to detect early skin changes due to radiation treatment in breast cancer patients. Use of the technique could facilitate earlier delivery of treatment to prevent radiation skin damage in these patients. They can develop a skin reaction that, in severe cases, causes discomfort and can disrupt therapy. However, if detected early, skin reactions are preventable or treatable. 

    Clinical tests used 3DTT to measure the skin’s thermal effusivity—a tissue property that quantifies its ability to exchange heat with its surroundings. In the test, a flash of filtered light heats the skin while an infrared camera captures a time series of images that display skin temperatures by color. Using an algorithm to calculate temperature changes and determine the thermal effusivity at different skin depths, the researchers discovered the effusivity values of damaged skin tissue differ from that of healthy skin. 

    Preliminary data show that marked reductions in the effusivity levels of irradiated skin occur well in advance of development of high-grade skin reactions. Soon, the team hopes to apply the 3DTT technique in breast cancer patients. Also underway is the development of an even more sophisticated algorithm to improve resolution at subsurface depths.


    Three-dimensional thermal tomography offers significant benefits over existing technologies: 

    • Is non-invasive and enhances healing. 
    • Measures tissue property changes without interrupting treatment. 
    • Provides rapid feedback to clinicians during diagnosis and treatment. 
    • Detects other conditions, such as skin cancer, where changes in effusivity would enable researchers to locate and quantify the number of cancer cells. 
    • Measures skin damage caused by electricity or lightning and to evaluate the progress of skin grafts. 
    • Applicable to virtually any material up to about 10 millimeters deep. 
    • Enables clinicians to image multilayered materials without knowing the number of layers in advance, unlike other imaging technologies. 
    • Offers higher spatial resolution compared to that of other technologies such as X-rays, CT, and ultrasound. 

    Applications and Industries 

    The 3DTT technique has wide application in medicine as well as in other industries where in situ inspection is required, such as the imaging of engine components or the space-shuttle thermal protection system. 

    Developmental Stage 

    This technology is ready for prototype development.

  • Improved treatment of X-ray resistant and inoperable cancers and tumors
    Intellectual Property Available to License
    US Patent 7,312,461
    • Endoscopic Electron Beam Cancer Therapy (ANL-IN-04-067)
    This figure shows a comparison of X-ray radiation treatment and electron beam treatment. At left, a false color map displays ene

    Manipulating electron beam cancer therapy so it can be used treat internal cancers and tumors has the potential to revolutionize oncology. This ground-breaking innovation can provide a successful and cost-effective means of treating cancer in previously inoperable or radiation-sensitive areas of the body. 

    Technology Description 

    By delivering large irradiation doses in a short time, electron beams have proven to be very effective in cancer treatment. But the electron is also strongly absorbed by tissue, limiting this treatment to surface cancers and procedures that require large surgical incisions to expose the body core. 

    Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, led by John Noonan, have discovered a way to turn the negative attributes of electron beam cancer therapy into advantages. If the electron beam can be transported to the internal cancer without exposure to tissue, the beam can be absorbed by the tumor only. With this approach, healthy tissue is not exposed to radiation. 

    An electron source has been designed to have very low beam emittance. The beam is sub-millimeter in diameter and stays small over meters of transport in free space. It will allow for an articulated, hard-walled laparoscopic tube to be inserted through a small incision and positioned directly at the tumor. The beam can vary energy from 1 million electron volts (MeV) to 10 MeV, permitting it to cover a tumor size of about 0.5 cm to 5 cm, respectively. 

    Initially, electron beam treatment can be used on X-ray radiation resistant tumors. The electrons destroy cancerous cells by direct damage to the DNA, and not by electron displacement in molecules as with X-rays. Ultimately, the electron beam therapy would be a competitor to all X-ray treatments. 

    Potential Benefits 

    The damage volume of the electron irradiation can be controlled very closely by changing the electron beam energy. This precise exposure provides several new cancer therapies or treatments in previously inoperable or radiation-sensitive locations, such as the spine, nerves, optic nerve, and organs. Electron beam treatment of brain tumors is another new opportunity. In this case, the laparoscopic tube provides an advantage. After the irradiation, the tube can be used to evacuate the mass of dead tissue, which can become destructive to healthy brain cells. 

    Enormous doses can be delivered to the tumor without worrying about total body dose exposures, as is required for X-rays. The electron beam can be tailored to irradiate a very precise volume, so an oncologist can direct the irradiation at the tumor and whatever adjacent tissue they feel necessary. Another major advantage over X-rays is the amount of treatment time required. X-ray treatments can go on for months, while electron beams may potentially only require one session, providing a significant improvement in patient care. 

    The electron beam system is compact so it could fit in an operating room—probably even under the operating table. Except for the electron source, the system uses conventional accelerator technology. The production cost of the unit should be much less than that of existing radiation therapy systems. 

    Development Stage


    Scientific Publication

    Noonan J., and Lewellen J.W., 2005, Field-emission cathode gating for RF electron guns,” Physical Review, Special Topics - Accelerators and Beams 8: 033502

  • Narayanan Kasthuri

    Dr. Kasthuri is a neuroscience researcher at Argonne and an assistant professor (adjunct) in the Department of Neurobiology at The University of Chicago.
  • Edward J. O’Loughlin

    Ed O’Loughlin is an environmental chemist/environmental microbiologist specializing in the biogeochemical processes controlling the cycling of major/minor elements and the fate and transport of contaminants in natural systems.
  • Devin S. Hodge

    Devin S. Hodge is the Chief Operations Officer (COO) for Argonne National Laboratory’s Computing, Environment, and Life Sciences (CELS) directorate.
  • Karolina M. Michalska

    The primary interest of Dr. Michalska is structural biology with a focus on structure-function relationships in biochemical transformations.