QUB moves one step closer to laser-driven proton cancer therapy

  • A team of researchers at Queen's University Belfast is researching a potentially safer treatment option for Cancer treatment. 

    Some cancers are treated using targeted radiation therapies such as proton beam therapy, an alternative to traditional radiotherapy designed to target the tumour while leaving the surrounding tissue intact. This is often the best option for cancers that would be dangerous to operate on such as brain tumours.

    A team at Queen's University led by Professor Marco Borghesi and Professor Kevin Prise have been investigating a method of accelerating the proton beam for this treatment using lasers. The team used the Gemini laser system at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Central Laser Facility to study how proton pulses affect the human body.

    Lead author on the publication of the study, Professor Marco Borghesi from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s, said: “This experiment contributes to unravelling some of the underlying biological processes, and shows that laser-driven techniques for producing high-energy particle beams are already mature enough to allow controlled radiobiology experiments in a high-power laser laboratory.”

    If this laser based approach works out, it could make safer proton therapy more widely available and cost effective for cancer sufferers around the world. Current proton accelerator systems are large and complex pieces of equipment that can deliver continuous streams, while the simpler laser system can operate in ultra short pulses. If these pulses had a comparable effect on the body then they would be a viable new method, which is the question this research set out to answer. 

    CLF’s Dr Rajeev Pattathil said: “A high-intensity, short pulse laser like Gemini provides the right conditions for producing these high energy ion beams. This makes the system ideal to investigate how useful lasers could be in proton therapy.”

    Source: Queens University Belfast

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