The uncertainty associated with the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) in proton therapy, particularly near the Bragg peak (BP), has led to the shift towards biological-based treatment planning. Proton RBE uncertainty has recently been reported as a possible cause for brainstem necrosis in pediatric patients treated with proton therapy. Despite this, in vivo studies have been limited due to the complexity of accurate delivery and absolute dosimetry. The purpose of this investigation was to create a precise and efficient method of treating the mouse spinal cord with various portions of the proton Bragg curve and to quantify associated uncertainties for the characterization of proton RBE. Mice were restrained in 3D printed acrylic boxes, shaped to their external contour, with a silicone insert extending down to mold around the mouse. Brass collimators were designed for parallel opposed beams to treat the spinal cord while shielding the brain and upper extremities of the animal. Up to six animals may be accommodated for simultaneous treatment within the restraint system. Two plans were generated targeting the cervical spinal cord, with either the entrance (ENT) or the BP portion of the beam. Dosimetric uncertainty was measured using EBT3 radiochromic film with a dose-averaged linear energy transfer (LETd) correction. Positional uncertainty was assessed by collecting a library of live mouse scans (n = 6 mice, two independent scans per mouse) and comparing the following dosimetric statistics from the mouse cervical spinal cord: Volume receiving 90% of the prescription dose (V90); mean dose to the spinal cord; and LETd. Film analysis results showed the dosimetric uncertainty to be ±1.2% and ±5.4% for the ENT and BP plans, respectively. Preliminary results from the mouse library showed the V90 to be 96.3 ± 4.8% for the BP plan. Positional uncertainty of the ENT plan was not measured due to the inherent robustness of that treatment plan. The proposed high-throughput mouse proton irradiation setup resulted in accurate dose delivery to mouse spinal cords positioned along the ENT and BP. Future directions include adapting the setup to account for weight fluctuations in mice undergoing fractionated irradiation.
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