Applying cutting-edge technology to radiotherapy for improving cancer patient outcomes

The impact that cancer has on society cannot be underestimated. Throughout our lives one in two of us will be diagnosed with a form of cancer, with the disease accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths worldwide in 2018. Cancer also has a huge economic impact, with the total cost estimated at around $1.16 trillion per year.

The Optimisation of Medical Accelerators (OMA) project aims to improve outcomes for cancer patients.

Despite the huge social and economic impact of cancer, global diagnosis rates are increasing and new therapy methods are required to effectively combat the disease. Radiotherapy, widely regarded as one of the most promising techniques for cancer therapy, uses x-rays and electrons in combination with proton or ion beams to create a treatment that is uniquely suited to targeting tumors. Despite recent advances in radiotherapy, more research is needed to maximize the effectiveness of this promising treatment.

The Optimisation of Medical Accelerators (OMA) project, collaborative research network funded by the EU, is developing upon these advances with the ultimate goal of improved cancer patient outcomes. OMA is a network of over 30 partners, comprised of universities, research centers, ion beam treatment facilities and industrial companies that aims to address challenges in key areas such as treatment facility design and optimization, numerical simulations for the development of advanced treatment schemes, and in beam imaging and treatment monitoring. OMA centers around 15 early stage research fellows who are working on dedicated projects around the world to maximize the benefits of using particle beams in cancer treatments.

Jacinta Yap, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool, is working with Professor Carsten Welsch on an OMA research project that is utilizing a cutting-edge technology that was originally designed and used on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and applying it to the field of radiotherapy. The LHCb VELO detector, designed at the University of Liverpool for high-energy physics, has a hole in its center which lets a beam of particles pass through without any degrading effects. By adapting its design, the team is able to detect the halo of particles around a treatment beam as it passes through and by correlating this to the primary beam delivered, can obtain important information about the beam as it treats the patient.

We measure the particle outliers around the beam and correlate this information to the energy and the precise dose that is delivered to the patient, allowing for the beam’s characteristics to be monitored in real-time. This delivers more precise doses for patients and saves significant amounts of time, enabling more people to receive this potentially life-saving treatment at reduced cost.”

Professor Welsch, Head of the Department of Physics at the University of Liverpool and Director of the OMA network

Later this month, the OMA network will take part in the Accelerators for Science and Society Symposium, an event that will showcase how accelerator technology research is driving innovation across a wide range of sectors, creating significant economic, scientific and societal benefits. Held at Liverpool’s Arena and Convention Centre (ACC) on Friday 28th June, the Symposium will feature a number short talks from world-leading European researchers on a range of accelerator-related topics from antimatter research to radiotherapy. All of the talks will be broadcast live for free between 10:30 and 13:00 (GMT+1), with a number of satellite events taking place around the world.

Dr Simon Jolly, Associate Professor of Accelerator Physics at University College London, is one of the UK's leading experts on particle accelerators for medicine, and will discuss the links between particle physics research and cancer treatment at the Accelerators for Science and Society Symposium. Speaking ahead of his talk on ‘Proton Beam Therapy: how the Large Hadron Collider cures cancer’, Dr Jolly said:

The development of the accelerator technology we use for proton radiotherapy actually started somewhere completely different: particle physics. What is fascinating is not only this shared history but also the myriad ways in which research technology has to be adapted for use in a clinical environment.”

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