A new, innovative form of radiation based on verified scientific facts will be available to patients all over Europe within the next few decades. The official kick-off meeting of the Community project ULICE (Union of LIght Ions Centres in Europe), which the European Union is supporting with nearly 10 million euros, was held in fall 2009 in the Department of Radiooncology and Radiation Therapy of the Heidelberg University Hospital. This consortium consists of a total of 21 European research and treatment facilities in the field of ion therapy who have joined forces in an interdisciplinary network in order to advance basic research in the fields of physics, biology and medicine, and to effectively use the existing ion therapy facilities in Europe in a joint effort to further develop this technique.
Transnational clinical studies
The project as a whole is divided into three programs:
- Patients will be treated in the context of joint transnational clinical therapy studies in ion therapy facilities. This project is to be coordinated and directed from Heidelberg, where patient assignment and indications will be structured and established, and transnational and transinstitution databases for clinical and preclinical parameters will be established.
- The second program will consist of the research and further development of ion therapy in the various clinical and preclinical sub-areas in focus; these joint research activities will be centrally coordinated from Vienna.
- The third program will focus on communication and interaction as well as interdisciplinary discussion and consensus building, and will be centrally directed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.
Four primary project directors will be responsible for the project: Prof. Dr. Roberto Orrechia, Medical Director of Radiooncology and the National Center for Hadron Therapy (Centro Nazionale di Adroterapia Oncologica, CNAO) in Milan, Prof. Dr. Richard P-tter, Medical Director of the Department of Radiooncology and Radiation Therapy at the General Hospital (AKH) of Vienna, Prof. Dr. Manjit Djosanjh of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, and Prof. Dr. Dr. J-rgen Debus, Medical Director of the Department of Radiooncology and Radiation Therapy at the Heidelberg University Hospital.
A total of 22 centers of excellence in Europe involved
In addition to the four centers of excellence (Heidelberg, Milan, Geneva and Vienna), a total of 18 other European centers will be included in the joint project. Essential preliminary work has already been completed, especially in Berkeley, California, USA and at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany. So far, more than 70,000 patients all over the world have been treated with ion radiation, most of them with protons and heavy ions. Heavy ions (carbon ions) differ from conventional photon radiation therapy and proton therapy by an increased relative biological effectiveness (RBE), which has shown critical therapeutic advantages, especially for slow-growing and radiation-resistant tumors.
Since 1997 far more than 400 patients have been treated by the Heidelberg radiooncologists with carbon ions in cooperation with the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt and the Department of Medical Physics at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, as well as the Rossendorf Research Center in Dresden. Therapeutic results have been significantly improved, especially for tumors at the base of the skull.
Heidelberg Ion Radiation Therapy Center is opened
Based on this preliminary work, the Heidelberg Ion Radiation Therapy Center (HIT) has been set up at the Heidelberg University Hospital and will soon begin clinical operation. There, it will be possible to treat over 1,300 patients per year with ion radiation. In particular, tumors of the base of the skull such as chordomas, chondrosarcomas and meningiomas as well as tumors of the salivary glands and prostate carcinomas will be treated. Brain tumors such as glioblastomas and low-grade astrocytomas will also be treated in the context of clinical studies at the HIT.