Zapping Tumours In Less Than A Second

Researchers at Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have secured funding for two projects that will help make cancer radiation therapies faster and less destructive to healthy tissue. The most amazing bit about this work is that the scientists aim to reduce cancer radiation therapy sessions from minutes down to under a second.

Researchers at SLAC and Stanford are developing new accelerator-based technology that aims to make compact and faster radiotherapy devices. They also aim to make them economical and power-efficient so that more people around the world can benefit from this form of cancer radiation treatment.Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

How on earth are they going to do this I hear you ask? The team of scientists are working with two ways that can help treat tumors: x-rays and protons. By shooting the deadly cancer tissue with x-rays or protons over a really short time means the harmful tissue can be zapped and the healthy tissue and organs don’t have enough time to respond. This way, the healthy tissue is kept safe and more likely to remain unscathed by the proton or x-ray beam. These beams are produced using accelerators. At this moment in time, there aren’t any accelerator structures that are powerful enough to produce a quick enough flash of x-rays or protons. But, with recent funding success, Stanford and SLAC researchers are feeling hopeful about building the necessary accelerator structures.

The project is called PHASER which stands for Pluridirectional High-energy Agile Scanning Electron Radiotherapy, quite a mouthful, right? Essentially what this means is that PHASER is a radiotherapy technique that uses electrons that can offer the same dose as an entire radiotherapy session but in less than a second. In the U.S., the biggest killer of adults under the age of 85 is cancer so this technique is hoped to improve survival rates.

Most medical devices have accelerator structures that involve speeding up electrons through long tubes containing radiofrequency fields. The electrons ride the wave and gain energy and are then converted into x-rays. Within the last few years, the PHASER team have developed and tested new shapes for accelerator prototypes. In the next few years, the team hope to have the first device ready for clinical trials. An exciting time for cancer treatment.

On top of this, the team would like to improve proton therapy by offering a much faster and more compact system. At the moment, proton therapy involves chunky equipment, where large magnets are needed to steer the proton beam. Proton therapy is much better than traditional x-ray radiotherapy since they are less harmful to healthy tissue. The team are hoping to design systems that are economical, power-efficient, and compact so that more people around the world can benefit from this cancer treatment. Fun fact for you, the first broadly used medical linear accelerator was actually invented and built at Stanford just before SLAC was built. So, watch this space for the next generation of medical accelerators for cancer treatment.

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Original Date: Nov 28 2018

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