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Honey, I Shrunk The Proton Therapy Machine

June 13, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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People even vaguely familiar with proton radiation therapy know two things about the machines that create the proton beams: they’re huge, and they’re expensive. In Dresden, Germany, medical physicist and PhD student Umar Masood has created a new design that cuts the size in half and trims the expense as well.

Masood works at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) research laboratory. He’s lead author of an open-access paper about the new design that was published in the April edition of Applied Physics B: Lasers and Optics.

Proton beams can be more precisely targeted than conventional X-ray radiotherapy beams, sparing healthy tissue from damage. “On the one hand,” said Michael Baumann, MD, PhD, “the application of proton beam therapy in different types of cancer has yet to be studied in more depth; for 15 to 20 percent of all radiotherapy patients, proton beam therapy will most likely be a considerable advantage compared with the established form of radiation therapy.”

Baumann added this:

On the other hand, the necessary facilities are quite large and costly. Thus, this treatment option will become more widely accepted the more compact and the less expensive the available equipment becomes.

Dr. Baumann is director of OncoRay, a German National Center for Innovation in Radiation Oncology in Dresden. It is jointly operated by several institutes, including the HZDR. Dr. Baumann was quoted in an HZDR news release.

Masood’s concept replaces the typical large ring accelerator with a laser accelerator, which requires only millimeters to accelerate particles to high energy levels. With that advantage come a number of design challenges. “We will have to redevelop all of the various components from scratch over the next few years,” Masood said.

Lasers produce particle pulses instead of a continuous particle beam. A pulsed beam allows more powerful magnets to be used for guidance—and, fortunately, the HZDR’s Dresden High Magnetic Field Laboratory has extensive experience with pulsed magnets.

So how long before we see the laser proton therapy machine in action? Five years, the HZDR estimates. We’ll see.

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