Charlot Vandevoorde, iThemba LABS, Nuclear Medicine Department will present a Department of Physics Colloquium with a talk entitled, "Radiation biophysics research at iThemba LABS: a multidisciplinary alliance between biology and physics".
iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences (LABS) in South Africa is a multidisciplinary research facility that makes use of particle accelerators and related research equipment. Besides subatomic physics, materials research and the production of radioisotopes for medical applications, there is also a unique opportunity to perform applied physics and radiobiology research. The overall goal of the radiation biophysics division is to explore the physical and biological interactions of different radiation qualities (both external radiation beams and radioisotopes) on a variety of biological systems. This can be outlined in two main categories of research projects:
1. Cancer detection and research, by using targeted radioisotopes and particle therapy
2. Radiation protection, including biological dosimetry and space research projects
Major breakthroughs in these fields are expected from radiobiology research, so the division tries to elicit the biological response signature of charged particles across the molecular and tissue level and the impact of combined treatment regimens. Next to the radioisotopes and clinical proton beam line, the unique neutron irradiation modalities at iThemba LABS play a central role in these projects. Large uncertainties remain on the relative biological effectiveness of neutrons, particularly for low-dose and low-dose rate exposures. The number of facilities that provide neutron beams for radiobiology research is worldwide very limited and this was one of the reasons to start a space radiobiology project in 2019. Space travel comprises a unique and complex stress model composed of physical (i.e. cosmic radiation and microgravity) and psychological stressors. Within this project, we aim to optimise and validate a ground-based set-up to simulate the space environment for biology experiments, in order to evaluate the impact of individual and combined space stressors on the immune system and leukaemia risks of astronauts.
For all the ongoing radiobiology research projects, microdosimetry and Monte Carlo simulations remain vital tools to assess the microscopic patterns of energy deposition by radiation, which ultimately govern the observed biological effects. Therefore, this seminar is a plea to join forces and tackle outstanding radiation biophysics research challenges through a multidisciplinary approach.