CERN technology to be used for cancer detection

CERN technology to be used for cancer detection
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Technology from the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be used in hospitals to improve cancer detection and treatments that employ proton beam therapy.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham, UK, who designed and built detectors for ATLAS, where protons collide together at high speeds, are using their knowledge from the LHC to create a new way of helping cancer detection and treatment.

Scientists from Birmingham and the University of Lincoln, UK, are developing one of the most complex medical imaging systems ever created based on the detectors at the ATLAS experiment, which will be installed at the UK’s new NHS high energy proton beam therapy centre at the Christie Hospital Manchester.

The project is funded by a £3.3m (~€3.7) grant from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The new device will be based in the dedicated research room in the NHS proton beam therapy centre at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester (funded by The Christie Charity).

OPTIma: the new instrument

The new instrument, called OPTIma (Optimising Proton Therapy through Imaging), will be used at to create 3D images of the internal anatomy of cancer patients.

Birmingham physicists are leading on designing the detectors that will translate proof of concept into a system designed around the needs of the new NHS centre.

The proton beams will create images of the patient’s anatomy to enable improved cancer detection and provide better treatment for difficult to treat cancers. Like X-rays, protons can penetrate tissue to reach tumours. However, compared to X-rays, protons cause less damage to healthy tissue in front of the tumour, with the potential to reduce the side effects of radiation therapy.

Professor Phil Allport from the University of Birmingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy, and researcher at the ATLAS experiment at CERN, said: “By being able to better monitor the beams used to deliver the dose of radiotherapy and to more accurately calculate the required paths of protons through the patient, it will be possible to improve the treatment of cancers using protons. The high rate of protons needed to deliver the required dose in the required timeframe makes it important to have very fast detectors as well as detectors that can withstand the accumulated dose over many years of operation.”

This innovative method of cancer detection, including imaging and treating cancers, will remove some of the uncertainties associated with traditional X-ray imaging prior to proton therapy.

The project is being run in collaboration with the University of Lincoln, University of Manchester, University of Birmingham, University of Surrey, the Christie NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, and University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, UK.

This article was first published by the University of Birmingham.

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