Having Our Own Medical Avatar Could Transform Cancer Care and Space Travel
January 18, 2022
Merging Medicine and Art
On a day-to-day basis, LSU medical physics graduate student Megan Chesal might not
feel like Leonardo da Vinci as she sits at her computer in her two-bedroom apartment
in Baton Rouge, trying to understand the complex workings of the human body by creating
highly intricate drawings. But she’s nevertheless following in his footsteps by using
technology to describe biology.
Chesal develops human phantoms, which are computational 3D replicas of entire bodies. These virtual avatars can be used for medical research to help predict outcomes without having to experiment on living beings.
By combining physics, biology, art, and high-performance computing, Chesal’s long-term goal is to help fight cancer, which can be treated with radiation. More immediately, however, her focus is on space radiation, working on ways to protect astronauts and their equipment.
While Chesal makes her phantoms more detailed and anatomically correct, her collaborator and fellow student in the LSU SpaRTAN lab, Nousha Afshari, works to make them functionally correct, starting from the cell level. Their shared goal is to be able to custom-tailor phantoms for any person, regardless of gender, size, or shape.
“Louisiana has some of the highest cancer mortality rates in the nation, so the need to advance care is critical in our state and beyond. Megan’s and Nousha’s work is key in the rapidly-growing science of precision medicine, which offers unprecedented opportunities to use increasingly detailed information to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. It’s the future of cancer care.”
Jonas Fontenot, Chief Operations Officer and Chief of Physics at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center