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Ara Alexandrian: The Only Thing That Clicked With Me Was Physics

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Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Meet The Researcher | Radiological Sciences (Ph.D.) | November 14, 2016

Ara Alexandrian is working to create an application for radiotherapy experts that will provide suggestions on the best treatment care for radiotherapy patients.

The application will function similar to the way Pandora suggests music to users based on what they previously liked. It utilizes historical clinical data from successful radiotherapy treatment plans and an intelligent algorithm will begin to recognize patterns for maximizing treatment efficacy while mitigating patient toxicity. 

“This would give you clues and hints based on successful treatments in the past. We have over 5000 cases stored on a variety of cancers---prostate, skin, pelvic, breast---the more we get, the more intelligent the machines suggestions will be.”

Alexandrian is a graduate student in the  Medical Physics track of the Radiological Sciences Ph.D.

“I didn’t know this would be my path. I liked math and science during junior high, but I didn’t have a definite direction with school. When I completed high school, my parents supported me by encouraging me explore different career paths. I tried graphic design, gerontology and biology, but the only thing that clicked with me was physics,” he said.

Because of the long gap in between high school and college, Alexandrian had to take more physics classes before applying to California State Polytechnic University, Pomona to pursue a degree in physics and mathematics.

“I’m a first generation college student so it wasn’t a clear path for me…I couldn’t get a road map from an uncle or a parent,” he said. “You are sort of swimming and figuring it out yourself, so it slows you down and there were a lot of confusing points.”

After graduation, he decided to get a Master of Science in Medical Physics through a joint program at Oregon State University and Oregon Health Science University.

“I liked the program a lot, but it was more clinically focused and I wanted to gain additional research experience. A lot of the alumni and collaborators were graduates from UT Health San Antonio’s program which drew me to this program. They were all strong role models and people I aspired to be like so when I was shopping for programs, it was a green light from the start,” he said.

At first, he was skeptical about moving to San Antonio.

“I had my own stereotypes of Texas but having lived here for a year and a half, I’ve learned that San Antonio has a lot to offer. There are many lively places to explore such as The Pearl, The Riverwalk and lots of gems hidden by 1604,” he said. “There are things that don’t come up with a preliminary Google Search. Living in San Antonio has exceeded my expectations.”

Alexandrian spends most of his day at our  Cancer Therapy and Research Center researching ways to optimize treatment for cancer patients.

“Our main goal is to treat cancer… we don’t get the patient, just place them under a linear accelerator and immediately start treatment. There’s a lot of care and consideration that goes into planning and treating a patient. We use image guidance technology to ensure that the patient is where they should be. When treating with radiation, you can’t see with your eyes where the radiation is being delivered but using software, we can visualize it.” 

Alexandrian invested a large portion of his life to education. When asked what keeps him going, Alexandrian said it is the sense of responsibility to utilize his background for a greater good.

“There’s a feeling of giving back. I could do finance and make a killing but there’s something more rewarding that pulls you in here,” he said. “The toughest times I’ve had are the pediatric case—who wants to see a child that way. However, if you take a step back and think if radiotherapy didn’t exist, the alternative is much worse.”

This article is part of the "Meet The Researcher" series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.  

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