Doctors Capture Cherenkov Light Phenomenon Generated Inside Eyeball For First Time
For decades, Cherenkov light has remained a medical enigma. Now, scientists have captured it on camera for the first time.
Cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy have reported a certain strange phenomenon for years: flashes of bright or blue light, simultaneous with radiation delivery.
It’s been reported to occur even when patients have their eyes closed, even just for a fraction of a second. However, it’s largely remained a mystery until now.
As per IFLScience, Cherenkov light ‘is electromagnetic radiation that’s emitted when a charged particle passes through matter at a greater speed than the speed of light within that medium, producing an effect like a sonic boom, which occurs when, for example, a plane travels faster than the speed of sound’.
While the sensation in humans has been relatively well-documented, it’s been difficulty to secure any evidence of it actually occurring.
In order to solve the problem of Cherenkov light, a team of researchers at Dartmouth’s and Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center led by radiation oncologist Lesley Jarvis, MD, PhD and Irwin Tendler, MEng got together – their study was then published the International Journal of Radiation Oncology.
By using CDose camera imaging system, specially designed to view light emissions from biological systems, the researchers managed to capture the glowing light.
Tendler, of Dartmouth College explained further in a statement:
Our newest data is exciting because for the first time, light emission from the eye of a patient undergoing radiotherapy was captured. This data is also the first instance of evidence directly supporting that there is enough light produced inside the eye to cause a visual sensation and that this light resembles Cherenkov emission.
As the radiation beam passes through the eye, light is generated within the vitreous fluid. Our real-time data rigorously showed that the amount of light produced is sufficient to elicit a visual sensation – a topic that has been debated in the literature.
By analysing the spectral composition, we also show that this emission can be classified as Cherenkov light – again, another contested point in the literature.
As light emission from the eye is incredibly subtle, it had been nigh-on impossible to detect until recently. It’s hoped that the new research and imaging system will benefit radiation therapy in the future.
In the case that the eye is a target, the method could provide confirmation of beam delivery; in the case that this is unintentional, it can provide evidence of an error or near miss – as a safety check.
The researchers’ next steps are to establish whether there’s a link between ocular Cherenkov light and long-term visual effects.
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International Journal of Radiation Oncology