CERN launches new cancer therapy initiative

The first meeting of a new European network for research in cancer therapy will be held at CERN1, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, on 12 and 13 February 2002. ENLIGHT2 – the European Network for Research in Light Ion Therapy – aims to coordinate the development of a variety of projects at European facilities for "light ion therapy" – a form of radiation therapy that uses beams of the nuclei of lightweight atoms.

"CERN can play an important supporting role in this activity", says Hans Hoffmann, Director for Technology Transfer and Scientific Computing. "The work of our laboratory is based on a vast expertise in the physics and engineering that underlies the accelerators and detectors essential for this type of therapy."

Radiation therapy aims to deliver the largest possible destructive dose to a tumour while minimising the damage to surrounding healthy tissue. However, conventional therapy with X-rays and gamma rays is not very effective for deep-seated tumours, where it is difficult to concentrate the dose on the target area. It is in these cases that therapy with light ions and protons – hydrogen ions – has particular advantages. This is mainly because beams of protons or light ions do not diffuse so much as they travel through the body, but simply slow down and eventually deposit most of their energy where they stop.

In this first meeting for ENLIGHT, experts from around the world will gather at CERN to discuss the physics and engineering of the particle accelerators and beam systems needed to provide the light ions. The meeting will bring together clinicians, oncologists, physicists and engineers from many countries, including Germany where in the past four years the GSI (Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung mbH) in Darmstadt has treated about 100 patients with a new carbon-ion beam, and Japan, where the Heavy Ion Medical Accelerator Centre (HIMAC) in Chiba has been operational for six years.

ENLIGHT will bring together experts from the various existing or proposed facilities so as to increase the clinically effectiveness and reliability of light ion therapy methods, while keeping down the cost.

European research in light ion therapy technology has grown over the past 10 years at several centres, including CERN. The Proton Ion Medical Machine Study (PIMMS) for an accelerator specifically for proton therapy was carried out at CERN in collaboration with the GSI, Med-Austron in Vienna, Onkologie 2000 in Prague, and the TERA foundation based in Italy.

Footnote(s)

1. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and Unesco have observer status.

2. ENLIGHT's members are: ESTRO (European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology); EORTC (European Organization for Research in Treatment of Cancer); ÉTOILE (Éspace de Traitement Oncologique par Ions Légers Européen), Lyon; Karolinska Institutet, Sweden; GHIP (German Heavy Ion Physics), Heidelberg; Macarena, Spain; Med-Austron, Vienna; TERA (Fondazione per Adroterapia Oncologica), Italy; CERN.

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