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UNT professor developing alternative to sedation of pediatric cancer patients

UNT professor developing alternative to sedation of pediatric cancer patients

November 28
13:12 2017

UNT professor Manish Vaidya is part of a research study that may lead to an alternative to the sedation of children who are undergoing radiation therapy for cancer.

Vaidya, who serves as an associate professor in the department of behavior analysis, is working with researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to develop a way to train pediatric cancer patients to stay still during radiotherapy treatments as an alternative to sedation.

Currently, children undergoing radiotherapy for cancer are sedated in order to prevent movement. The children are not allowed to move more than two millimeters while undergoing radiotherapy as they risk damaging healthy cells.

Steve Jiang, vice chair of Radiation Oncology at the University of Texas Southwestern and the principal investigator for this research, said he began to wonder if there was another way to keep pediatric patients still during radiotherapy.

“I’ve been doing cancer research for more than 20 years,” Jiang said. “I began to notice that for pediatric patients, we often gave general anesthesia so they can stay still.”

Jiang said he once witnessed children sitting very still with their attention locked into a program onscreen, causing a lightbulb to go off in his head.

“I was thinking about how to solve this problem,” Jiang said. “How could I use this phenomenon in place of general anesthesia?”

The research is being funded by a $900,000 grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which was awarded to the researchers on March 1, 2016.

Jiang applied for the grant and was searching for behavioral experts on how to actually do the training to keep kids still. He then contacted Vaidya.

“This grant is just for the clinical development, so it’s for us to develop technologies, for us to develop the training protocols,” Vaidya said. “And then hopefully the next grant will be the clinical grant which actually will involve kids with cancer, undergoing actual radiation therapy.”

Graduate student Maria Otero, who works with Vaidya, said they are working on perfecting their methods before going further with trials.

“These kiddos, we don’t want to have them spend an hour when our procedures aren’t perfect,” Otero said. “If they’re there just to be at the hospital, they don’t need to be there any longer than we want them to be.”

Otero completed her undergraduate at UNT and spent a year in Vaidya’s lab doing other research work before joining the team.

The system works in that pediatric patients sit on a table and look up at a screen that features some sort of program. The program is meant to hold their attention. On the side of the screen are three lights: green, yellow and red. Vaidya said the training may not work for all children, and that some will still have to be sedated during treatment as they cannot risk damaging healthy cells.

If the child remains still, the light stays green and the program continues to run. If the child begins to move, the light will move to yellow, and if the child moves outside of clinical parameters the light becomes red and the program stops. The program acts as a motivator for the child to remain still.

The children undergoing radiotherapy, which itself is actually painless, are likely receiving the treatment six days a week, from anywhere between three to six weeks at a time, Vaidya said.

It turns out that 95 percent of the cancers that kids get…are in the upper body,” Vaidya said. “Most them in the head, neck or upper torso area, so those are the areas we’re focusing on. We can isolate the head movements and specifically the torso movements.”

Vaidya said there are several compelling reasons to create this alternative to sedation, such as allowing them to eat, helping their relationships with their families, making their bodies healthier and more prone to recovery from radiotherapy.

All this trouble they’re going through is just for the sedation, and the only reason we’re doing the sedation is to keep them still,” Vaidya said. “If we could just find another way to keep them still, we could avoid the nastiest part of this treatment…which is actually preparing for the treatment.”

Featured Image: Researcher Manish Vaidya and student researcher Maria Otero stand for a photo. The pair is working with other researchers at Northwestern University on an alternative to the sedation of children while undergoing radiation treatment. Brigitte Zumaya

About Author

Sean Riedel

Sean Riedel

Sean Riedel was the news editor at the North Texas Daily from August 2018 to May 2019, and previously served as a staff writer from June 2017 to August 2018.

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