Mysterious, but widespread reports of radiation therapy patients seeing flashes of light, even when their eyes are closed, may have finally been explained, as the unusual cause was finally caught on camera.
A new study used a special camera imaging system called CDose, custom-built to capture light emissions during the radiotherapy.
During the experiment at the heart of the study, the patient reported seeing flashes of light. Follow-up studies were performed on pigs’ eyes, and allowed researchers to further identify the type and composition of the light, confirming that it was indeed the long-suspected culprit, Cherenkov radiation.
Cherenkov radiation, or Cherenkov emissions, occur as a radiation beam passes through the fluid in the eye, producing light inside the organ. It is the same phenomenon that causes nuclear reactors to glow blue.
“Our newest data is exciting because for the first time, light emission from the eye of a patient undergoing radiotherapy was captured,” says biomedical engineer Irwin Tendler, from Dartmouth College.
The discovery might help improve the accuracy of radiotherapy in the future, affording doctors more information about whether the radiation beam hit its intended target or not. It may also prevent vision loss in patients, if a causal link to the light flashes can be established.
“Although theories regarding direct nerve stimulation, scintillation of the lens, and ultraweak bioluminescent photons cannot be ruled out, it seems clear that Cherenkov light production throughout the eye is quantifiable and significant,” conclude the researchers in their published paper.
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