WWU Senior Researcher Making Strides in Adaptive Radiotherapy

Vern Hart and Damon Burrow
Vern Hart and Damon Burrow

Cancer patients could ultimately benefit from research being conducted at William Woods University by a senior and his professor.

Damon Burrow is working to develop improvement in the treatment and diagnosis in of patients suffering from cancer. A biology major with minors in physics and chemistry from Dixon, Missouri, Burrow is working with Dr. Vern Hart, assistant professor of physics at WWU. They have been conducting research in automated image contouring in adaptive radiotherapy for malignant cancerous growths.

When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, a treatment plan is made using CT or MRI images. The patient then returns a few weeks later and, due to a changing anatomy, the new images don’t match the plan. Burrow’s work involves teaching a computer to identify and isolate organs and develop a new treatment plan in a few seconds, while the patient is being treated.

“Ultimately this would lead to increased treatment accuracy, decreased patient discomfort, and decreased excess exposure to radiation,” said Burrow. “There would also be reduced treatment times, and the opportunity to treat more patients in one day.”

Damon Burrow at computer
Damon Burrow at computer

Burrow recently presented his research at the University of Notre Dame during the annual meeting of the American Physical Society. He referred to it as an enlightening experience and a great opportunity to indulge himself in scientific accomplishment. Burrow enjoyed sharing his contributions with the scientific community.

He presented in the same session, the Prairie Section, with well-known physicists and Ph.D. candidates, and Dr. Hart said it was “incredible” to witness him present. Burrow defended his work when asked difficult questions, and confidently stated that his results were promising with the data he has collected.

“Damon was able to learn the programming language very quickly, and as a result has been able to directly contribute to state-of-the-art imaging research,” Hart said. “He has had some fantastic ideas about how to move the project forward in some very creative and original ways.”

Burrow presenting at Notre Dame
Burrow presenting at Notre Dame

Burrow has plans for future research that includes the addition of novel medial representation spline algorithms to finalize organ contours. He is working with Hart and students T.J. O’Conner, Jennifer Strosnider and Desiree Strief to develop this new algorithm to apply to his previous work. He is hopeful that this amalgamation of work will culminate into at least one published paper in a scientific journal.

Burrow has additional plans to present his research at two more upcoming conferences this spring. He plans to attend medical school next year in pursuit of a career in a surgical specialty; particularly he is interested in orthopedics or neurosurgery.

“Overall, I’m very thankful to Dr. Hart, William Woods University, and the University of Notre Dame for allowing me the chance to present my work,” said Burrow.