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Breathe a sigh of relief, as UCF researchers think they may have a solution for those living with lung disease.

Olusegun Ilegbusi, a UCF professor in the department of mechanical and Aerospace engineering, is one of several contributors to the creation of what can possibly be the solution to lung cancer: a three-dimensional artificial lung.

In the span of about four years, through three separate phases, the 3D artificial lung was created in hopes of providing precise information on tumor motion.

"Breathing-induced tumor motion makes it difficult to target tumors during radiotherapy," Ilegbusi said. "Therefore, healthy cells are exposed to unnecessary radiation. Our phantom will animate or mimic patient breathing."

These virtual lungs will be utilized to test how specific medications, treatments or procedures will affect the patient, without physically affecting the patient's lungs.

The patient will breathe normally through a mouthpiece, which looks similar to that of a snorkel, and the monitored data will be displayed directly through the 3D lung.

It is envisioned that in the next three to five years, every lung patient will have a 3D-printed lung by their side, which doctors can observe to better understand what is happening inside the patient.

Ilegbusi said the team decided to integrate the principles of radiology and engineering to try to predict tumor motion, with the goal of using such results for radiotherapy quality assurance.

Anand Santhanam, Ilegbusi's primary collaborator, was working toward his Ph.D. at UCF when the two came up with the idea of a 3D phantom.

Santhanam, a UCF 2006 graduate, emphasized the prevalence of personalized care for patients and how it can lead to a serious reduction in patient re-hospitalization.

"Taking a particular patient and making sure that the treatment exactly addresses all the patient's requirements is a new concept. The whole lung phantom itself is going to be a great tool for personalized care," said Santhanam, who currently works as an assistant professor in the radiation oncology department at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The whole idea of the 3D lung, Santhanam said, is to accurately mimic how the patient breathes, coughs or even laughs so doctors can better understand how to treat their patient. With such practice and use, doctors can have extreme confidence in administering treatment.

Other UCF students have also taken part in the project that could potentially save lives.

"My graduate students at UCF have participated in formulating and implementing some of the component technology, including determination of the elastic property of human lungs, as well as accurate reconstruction of 3D human lung geometry from imaging," Ilegbusi said.

Through the process, Ilegbusi led a senior design project in which undergraduate students helped in designing and testing the concept for the 3D phantom.

"Our technology will revolutionize radiation therapy in many ways, including tumor control, normal tissue tolerance, patient convenience, radiotherapy clinic patient flows, cost and potential new indications," Ilegbusi said.

The effectiveness of treatment will overall be increased, while the cost of therapy will in turn be decreased. The team is optimistic that this project will revolutionize the practice of lung radiotherapy.

While this 3D phantom is making its way into the future, Ilegbusi said the technology has a wider application beyond the lung.

"It is readily adaptable to other organs, like the breast, liver and kidney. We are already getting promising results in our preliminary application to head and neck cancer," he said.

Santhanam added that there are already existing companies that can produce 3D printing of tissue, which could actually be placed inside a patient.

"For the next decade or so, we're going to make sure this concept is fully developed, implemented and brought to a patient community," he said.

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Rachel Stuart is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSageor email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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