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George Xu Perfect Exposure
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The VIP in George Xu’s radiological engineering laboratory is not the principal investigator himself.

Nor is it a postdoctoral fellow or a graduate student. And it is not Karl, the life-size torso made of high-tech plastic.

VIP-Man (VIsible Photographic Man) is a computer code containing three billion voxels (a voxel is a 3-D pixel) of information. He — and yes, VIP-Man is male — is research subject extraordinaire used to study how radiation affects the human body. Applied to such problems as occupational exposure to radiological contamination and unintended effects of radiation therapy, research with VIP-Man will greatly augment our understanding of how electrons, neutrons, and protons interact with and cause damage to human tissues.

With several medical doctors in his family, Xu says he has always wanted to combine his interest in physics with medicine. He saw engineering as a way to study applied physics, and came to the United States to earn his doctorate in nuclear engineering (with a focus on health physics) from Texas A&M University. Now associate professor of nuclear engineering and engineering physics (jointly with the biomedical engineering department) at Rensselaer, Xu and his virtual patient are collaborating with doctors across the country to improve therapies that use radiation.

Xu is leading a team of researchers awarded a three-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop 3-D virtual patient models that will more accurately compute radiation doses for CT imaging, nuclear medicine, and radiation treatment of cancer patients. The grant is funded by the National Cancer Institute, part of NIH. Additional researchers from Rensselaer, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the University of Florida, and Massachusetts General Hospital are bringing expertise in the diverse fields of computer science, CT imaging, nuclear medicine, and proton therapy to the multidisciplinary project.

“Dr. Xu’s research aims to better understand the effects of radiation interaction on the human body using virtual patients, thereby enabling radiologists to use safer and more effective doses of radiation to image and treat actual patients,” says Omkaram “Om” Nalamasu, vice president for research at Rensselaer. “His work is an example of the advanced imaging and computational modeling research being conducted at Rensselaer and how it is collaboratively applied to address pressing medical and healthcare problems.”

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by Jill U. Adams Continued
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