MD Anderson Machinists Making Cancer History

On-site machine shop

In the lower level of the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, you can find the on-site machine shop team busy producing personalized compensators and apertures. The devices are an essential component in providing precise and effective treatment to each proton therapy patient.

Meet the team

The machine shop team is compromised of four machine and fabrication specialists that are all cross-trained: Paul Wisdom, Preston Baker, Hollis McDaniel and Willie Tucker. They play an integral role in ensuring each patient has their personalized medical devices made in a timely manner to avoid missing treatment.

What do compensators and apertures do?

The compensators and apertures guide the delivery of the proton radiation beam without harming surrounding healthy tissue and organs. The acrylic compensators control and shape the end of the proton beam while the brass aperture contours the outside of the proton beam by blocking protons from traveling beyond the field defined by the compensator.

Compensator (Left) and Aperture (Right)

Creating the devices

Before the machinists can begin producing the devices, physicists and dosimetrists create a patient-specific treatment plan using images of the patient’s tumor. Then, the images are sent to the machinists to begin creating the apertures and compensators to match the patient’s plan. So, there are no two parts the machine shop makes that are the same.

“Some of the compensators can take up to four hours to complete while others take about an hour or less. It all depends on the size of compensator,” Preston Baker, senior machine and fabrication specialist, said.

Besides making apertures and compensators, the machine shop also modifies and repairs devices and equipment such as tools, treatment machines and more.

In a year, our machinists make over a thousand of compensators and apertures.

One of a kind machine shop

The on-site machine shop team has established itself as a pioneer of producing quality medical devices efficiently for the Proton Therapy Center. The state-of-the-art machine shop prides itself for creating its own technique, software and devices in-house. As a result, the machine shop is able to reduce production time by producing devices on site resulting in higher quality of care for our patients. Other proton centers have their devices made by third-party facilities and have to purchase and design their own software.

With over 75 years of collective experience, the machines shop team hosts many medical professionals and technicians from other centers throughout the year. During the visit, they learn how to efficiently produce different medical devices and the operations of a machine shop.

Today, patients are able to take home their compensator after completing treatment as a form of souvenir.

“Overall, the objective is to make sure our patients are treated efficiently and professionally in hopes that they have the best outcome,” Preston said.

Machine Shop at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center