There is substantial growth within the medical care industry. The population of aging citizens is growing as well. As this is occurring it is our responsibility as professionals to make sure we are keeping up with technological advancements which often means more complicated medical equipment and devices throughout a variety of care centers including radiation oncology departments. It takes a unique person, with the right skill set, and work ethic to ensure facilities are successful in keeping linear accelerators, CT scanners, and other oncology equipment up and running to ensure on-time treatment.
Superior medical equipment repair providers all seem to posses’ similar qualities which allow facilities to maintain a high level of care without downtime due to equipment failure. Some of these traits include:
Lovers of Technology: Repairing large scaled medical equipment is not quite like anything else. Linear accelerators and other machines found in the radiation oncology department are complex and involve very complicated and detailed computer software and mechanical components. Most often companies that perform these detailed tasks use computers to troubleshoot issues with equipment as well as being capable of performing hands on tasks that involve the nitty gritty nuts and bolts.
Detailed Oriented: Medical equipment performs jobs that humans are not capable of performing including pin pointing laser treatments for cancerous tumors while keeping healthy tissues safe. When these machines breakdown the entire facility often comes to a stand-still. This means it is crucial that a complete diagnosis and repair is completed the first time. Good medical equipment technicians provide repair solutions efficiently and can identify even the tiniest thing is out of whack on medical equipment throughout the radiation department.
Solvers of Problems: Imagine having to solve a problem that has never been solved before. These are the mysteries that medical equipment repair specialists deal with daily. The problems and repairs that need to be done are usually a first of there kind and need to be able to be diagnosed properly and remedied quickly as not to affect downtime and patient care.
Reliable: When working within the medical industry in any capacity it is crucial that you are reliable, on-time, and ready to get down to business when needed. Other people’s lives are dependent on you being able to complete yours. Even if you are not in the direct line of patient care your job is of critical importance.
Acceletronics is an independent service company dedicated to delivering the best equipment performance and service reliability from Linear Accelerators and CT Scanners across all major brands and models. Learn more about Acceletronics and their selection of new and refurbished linear accelerators and CT scanners today at http://www.acceletronics.com. To contact one of our LINAC experts, call 610.524.3300.
Summary: The first full characterization measurement of an accelerator beam in six dimensions will advance the understanding and performance of current and planned accelerators around the world.
The artistic representation illustrates a measurement of a beam in a particle accelerator, demonstrating the beam’s structural complexity increases when measured in progressively higher dimensions. Each increase in dimension reveals information that was previously hidden.
Credit: ORNL/Jill Hemman
The first full characterization measurement of an accelerator beam in six dimensions will advance the understanding and performance of current and planned accelerators around the world.
A team of researchers led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville conducted the measurement in a beam test facility at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory using a replica of the Spallation Neutron Source’s linear accelerator, or linac. The details are published in the journal Physical Review Letters.
“Our goal is to better understand the physics of the beam so that we can improve how accelerators operate,” said Sarah Cousineau, group leader in ORNL’s Research Accelerator Division and UT joint faculty professor. “Part of that is related to being able to fully characterize or measure a beam in 6D space — and that’s something that, until now, has never been done.”
Six-dimensional space is like 3D space but includes three additional coordinates on the x, y, and z axes to track motion or velocity.
“Right away we saw the beam has this complex structure in 6D space that you can’t see below 5D — layers and layers of complexities that can’t be detangled,” Cousineau said. “The measurement also revealed the beam structure is directly related to the beam’s intensity, which gets more complex as the intensity increases.”
Previous attempts to fully characterize an accelerator beam fell victim to “the curse of dimensionality,” in which measurements in low dimensions become exponentially more difficult in higher dimensions. Scientists have tried to circumvent the issue by adding three 2D measurements together to create a quasi-6D representation. The UT-ORNL team notes that approach is incomplete as a measurement of the beam’s initial conditions entering the accelerator, which determine beam behavior farther down the linac.
As part of efforts to boost the power output of SNS, ORNL physicists used the beam test facility to commission the new radio frequency quadrupole, the first accelerating element located at the linac’s front-end assembly. With the infrastructure already in place, a research grant from the National Science Foundation to the University of Tennessee enabled outfitting the beam test facility with the state-of-the-art 6D measurement capability. Conducting 6D measurements in an accelerator has been limited by the need for multiple days of beam time, which can be a challenge for production accelerators.
“Because we have a replica of the linac’s front-end assembly at the beam test facility, we don’t have to worry about interrupting users’ experiment cycles at SNS. That provides us with unfettered access to perform these time-consuming measurements, which is something we wouldn’t have at other facilities,” said lead author Brandon Cathey, a UT graduate student.
“This result shows the value of combining the freedom and ingenuity of NSF-funded academic research with facilities available through the broad national laboratory complex,” said Vyacheslav Lukin, the NSF program officer who oversees the grant to the University of Tennessee. “There is no better way to introduce a new scientist — a graduate student — to the modern scientific enterprise than by allowing them to lead a first-of-a-kind research project at a facility that uniquely can dissect the particles that underpin what we know and understand about matter and energy.”
The researchers’ ultimate goal is to model the entire beam, including mitigating so-called beam halo, or beam loss — when particles travel to the outer extremes of the beam and are lost. The more immediate challenge, they say, will be finding software tools capable of analyzing the roughly 5 million data points the 6D measurement generated during the 35-hour period.
“When we proposed making a 6D measurement 15 years ago, the problems associated with the curse of dimensionality seemed insurmountable,” said ORNL physicist and coauthor Alexander Aleksandrov. “Now that we’ve succeeded, we’re sure we can improve the system to make faster, higher resolution measurements, adding an almost ubiquitous technique to the arsenal of accelerator physicists everywhere.”
The PRL paper is titled “First Six Dimensional Phase Space Measurement of an Accelerator Beam.” The paper’s coauthors also include ORNL’s Alexander Zhukov.
“This research is vital to our understanding if we’re going to build accelerators capable of reaching hundreds of megawatts,” Cousineau said. “We’ll be studying this for the next decade, and SNS is better positioned to do this than any other facility in the world.”
Manufacturers are reducing the size of proton-therapy systems to better compete with traditional radiotherapy, as Edwin Cartlidge reports
Since protons were first used to treat hospital cancer patients in the early 1990s, around 100,000 people have benefited from this alternative form of radiation therapy. While the X-rays used in conventional radiotherapy fully penetrate a patient and dump their maximum dose just after entering the body, protons deposit their biggest dose at a specific, energy-dependent depth and travel no further. This characteristic “Bragg peak” allows protons’ energy to be concentrated at the location of a tumour, so inflicting maximum damage to cancerous tissue while sparing surrounding cells.
These virtues, however, come at a price. Conventional radiotherapy generally involves accelerating electrons in a linear accelerator (linac) and colliding them with a tungsten target to generate X-rays. The apparatus, which is roughly 2 m long, is incorporated into a rotating gantry that allows X-rays to enter a patient’s body from a range of angles. But protons are much heavier than electrons, and require larger accelerators that generally serve multiple treatment rooms with 10 m-diameter gantries.
The greater size means that proton treatments typically cost about twice as much as those using X-rays. So while the therapy is becoming more popular – new treatment centres being built across Asia, Europe and the US, many of which are due to start up in the next year or two, will double the roughly 70 operating today – they are still only used in about 1% of all radiotherapy treatments. As such, says Bill Hansen, a marketing director at Varian Medical Systems in Palo Alto, California, many manufacturers of proton-therapy facilities are “struggling” to make a profit.
Developing more compact systems could change the economics of proton therapy for the better. Rather than having a large accelerator supply multiple rooms, the idea is to use a relatively small accelerator to serve a single room – so reducing civil engineering, component and maintenance costs. “Existing systems are large, expensive and very complex,” says Hansen. “Either the reimbursement for treating each patient has to be higher or the cost of treatment has to come down.”
Less is more
The workhorse of most proton-therapy centres is the cyclotron. This device consists of a pair of very powerful circular magnets placed above and below two semicircular electrodes with a gap between them. Protons emerging from an ion source in the centre of the device are forced to follow a spiral trajectory by the magnetic fields and gain a boost in speed at each turn as they cross the gap, thanks to an oscillating electric field. When the particles reach the edge of the magnetic field they leave the device with a very high energy – typically up to 250 MeV.
One way of reducing the cost of a cyclotron is to make the magnets with superconducting copper coils rather than ordinary ones. This means that cyclotrons can generate much greater magnetic fields and so bend the paths of the accelerating protons more tightly. Although the magnets themselves may be more expensive, boosting the field reduces the size of the cyclotron needed to generate protons of a given energy, thus lowering the total cost considerably.
The Belgian firm Ion Beam Applications (IBA), the world’s largest producer of proton-therapy systems, has adopted this approach, using superconducting technology to reduce the diameter of its accelerators from 4.3 to 2.5 m and to slash their weight from 200 to 45 tonnes. IBA chief research officer Yves Jongen says that, in principle, superconducting magnets could also be used to guide protons along the beamline, which runs from the accelerator up and over the gantry to the point of treatment. However, because the proton beam is scanned back and forth across the tumour during therapy, the magnetic field in the beamline needs to vary rapidly. This, he observes, removes some of the advantage of superconducting magnets: while superconductors incur no energy loss for a DC current, they do for an AC one.
As such, he says, IBA decided to use ordinary resistive magnets for the beamline, and to instead shrink the gantry (from 10 m to 7 m) by changing how the beam is scanned. To obtain the desired beam shape, the proton beam needs to be scanned at some distance from the patient, and in previous systems this scanning took place after the last of the bending magnets in the gantry. The new system instead scans the beam before it passes through the last magnet, making it possible to bring the magnets closer. As Jongen explains, this modification required 3D computer modelling to establish exactly what shape of magnetic field would be needed to bend the moving beam.
IBA completed its new design in 2012, and Jongen says that after testing it, the company has since installed 10 such systems, including five that are now treating patients. While the company’s large-scale facility costs between €40m and €60m, depending on the number of treatment rooms, the new system instead comes in at slightly below €20m. This means that one-room systems cost “slightly more” per room, but one room can still treat more than 300 patients a year – which is, he says, enough for most hospitals.
Another approach to reducing system size is to mount the accelerator directly onto the gantry. This strategy has enabled a Massachusetts-based company, Mevion Medical Systems, to develop a synchrocyclotron measuring 1.8 m across and weighing just 20 tonnes. Mevion’s first compact device has been operating since 2010, and it has since been updated to include a pencil-beam scanning system that allows protons to be delivered more quickly and more precisely, according to a company press release. However, placing an accelerator directly on the gantry comes with a couple of downsides. For one thing, the gantry can’t turn 360 degrees. According to Jongen, it also means that patients are exposed to more neutrons than they would be otherwise. These neutrons, generated when fast protons are lost in the device, irradiate healthy organs outside the tumour target.
On the straight and narrow
In the quest to improve the economics of proton therapy, however, not all companies are solely focused on size. Hansen at Varian says that his company is working to reduce the size of its gantries by making the beamline magnets both lighter and more powerful, possibly using superconductors. But a more important factor for them, he explains, is to boost power – in other words, to increase the dose rate of high-energy protons impinging on the tumour.
Hansen points out that patients must hold their breath during therapy on certain organs, particularly their lungs, to avoid the tumour moving in and out of the proton beam. Delivering the required dose as quickly as possible therefore limits the amount of time the patient needs to hold their breath, particularly if the tumour is big. This is less of a problem in traditional radiotherapy, given that X-rays do not target specific organs so precisely and therefore cause less variation in the received dose if the organ moves. In proton therapy, though, Hansen believes that a higher dose rate will improve results and therefore reduce the number of treatment sessions that are needed – lowering costs in the process. “That is really going to be the solution to the industry problem,” he maintains.
The problem Hansen refers to has been caused in part by doubts from health authorities and insurance companies about whether proton therapy really is superior to conventional radiotherapy. Harald Paganetti, director of physics research at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the US, says protons are definitely better in some cases – such as children with brain cancer, who can suffer a drop in IQ if healthy tissue is irradiated. But otherwise, he explains, it is often unclear whether dumping less energy outside the tumour translates into a clinical gain. In his 2017 ebook Proton Beam Therapy (from IOP Publishing, which also publishes Physics World), Paganetti observed that “we often do not know the importance of low dose radiation with respect to serious toxicities”, and Jongen adds that medical evidence on such topics is often slow to accumulate. “If you treat someone for cancer you have to follow them for five years to prove that you have effectively got rid of the tumour,” he says. “And then to have good statistics with a decent number of patients takes time”.
Undeterred, one British company is developing a novel system designed both to cut the costs and to improve the performance of proton therapy. So far, all proton-therapy systems have relied on circular accelerators – also including synchrotrons, which have been developed by Japanese multinational Hitachi. In contrast, Jonathan Farr, director of medical physics at London-based Advanced Oncotherapy, explains that his company plans to ramp up proton speeds using a linac.
In order to scan a tumour by reducing the depth of the Bragg peak in steps, proton energy must be varied rapidly. In a cyclotron, where protons are emitted with a fixed, maximum energy, this is done by placing lightweight absorbers of varying thickness in the beam path. A linac, in contrast, consists of a series of accelerating modules that can be individually switched on or off – a purely electronic process that Farr says in future could be carried out at up to 200 times a second. At that speed, he says, even lung tumours could be irradiated without requiring patients to hold their breath. Farr also argues that the modular nature of the accelerator means it should be cheaper to manufacture, assemble and maintain. Plus, he claims, the device should in future generate narrower beams than those from circular accelerators – yielding a radius of less than a millimetre, as opposed to 3 or 4 mm – allowing tumours to be more accurately targeted.
The technology behind Advanced Oncology’s Linac for Image Guided Hadron Therapy (LIGHT) was developed at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, and it relies on the world’s highest frequency RF quadrupole to initially accelerate protons in a very short space and therefore at low cost. In 2019 a prototype device will be moved from CERN to a thick-walled bunker at the Daresbury Laboratory in the UK for full-energy testing. The plan then is to start treating patients in a specially designed facility under an existing town house in Harley Street, central London, in 2020.
Farr says testing the machine “is going as expected” but admits that he and his colleagues still face some fairly stiff challenges, particularly when it comes to putting the components together on site – which must be done with millimetre precision over a distance of 24 m. “It is engineering. It is not science,” he says. “We don’t have to discover anything new, we just have to do the work. But we have to do that at a tight level.”
Farr believes that technical success will lead to commercial interest. Although he won’t put hard numbers on it, he is confident that the linac technology can “significantly reduce the entire project cost” for proton therapy. “Everybody in proton therapy is chasing the goal to get it down close to the cost of traditional treatment,” he says. “We may not get to that, but we hope to get close.”
Image guided radiotherapy (IGRT) is the state-of-the-art in radiation treatment, and the recent introduction of integrated MRI-linac systems adds potential for real-time tumour tracking during beam delivery. But achieving this requires the ability to quickly and accurately determine the position of the target volume and critical structures from the MR images.
Because radiotherapy uses a divergent beam emanating from a single point, conventional pre-treatment simulation using CT requires the creation of “ray-traced” digital reconstruction radiographs to generate a beam’s-eye-view (BEV) image that represents the path of the treatment beam. Conventional MR image slices, however, have pixels that represent volume elements arranged parallel to each other.
When MRI is used to track structures for real-time radiotherapy guidance, these two coordinate geometries do not match and tracking errors can result, especially for thick image slices. Divergent ray-tracing of MR images is technically possible, but not suitable for real-time guidance due to lengthy 3D acquisition and ray-tracing reconstruction times.
Now, Keith Wachowicz, Brad Murray and B. Gino Fallone from the University of Alberta have developed a theoretical framework that allows – for the first time – direct acquisition of BEV projection images in MRI. They also describe how their concept can be applied to various types of MRI-linac configurations (Phys. Med. Biol. 63 125002).
“The BEV encoding gradients proposed in this work would allow direct acquisition of tracking images in the same geometry as the treatment beam, avoiding any potential for tracking errors due to the geometry mismatch,” explains first author Wachowicz.
Warping fields to use MRI to track anatomy in real time, the researchers propose the use of non-conventional gradient field patterns, implemented through hardware additions to a standard scanner architecture. They developed nonlinear encoding gradient fields that allow MR images to be generated in a divergent beam geometry. For MRI-linac systems where the radiation source is fixed relative to the magnet, adding two warping coils to the linear X and Y coils can produce these encoding fields.
For MRI-linac architectures in which the beam source is not fixed to the imaging magnet, the identified warping field pattern will only be appropriate for one source position. In such cases, the researchers showed that a basis set of second-order spherical harmonic functions, together with linear gradients, provides a good approximation of the BEV gradient patterns at any angle.
They propose the use of a set of second-order warping coils fixed to the magnet, employed in various combinations to generate the conditions for divergent imaging as the source rotates. This would require four additional warping coils.
Proof of principle
To test their proposed theory, the researchers used a 3T scanner to image a phantom with nonlinear encoding-gradient field patterns. The phantom comprised gel-filled rods oriented to converge at a single point 100 cm away.
As the derived encoding gradients are not readily available, they approximated the ideal warping field to a second-order field gradient and created this using second-order shim coils. Such coils, however, are not currently designed for rapid switching in tandem with the linear encoding gradients.
“To test the feasibility of this approach in an environment without rapid-switching capability, we had to first find a sequence that maintained as much as possible a constant encoding gradient amplitude during image encoding. The closest match we could find was a short-echo radial acquisition,” Wachowicz explains. “Secondly, we had to manually alter the shim coil currents according to our calculations for each of the 102 radial spokes that we acquired.”
To circumvent hardware limitations, the researchers also created a corresponding virtual phantom. They simulated three images, using: conventional linear gradients; switched linear-encoding gradients and unswitched warping fields (to mimic the experiment); and linear-encoding gradients and warping fields switched in tandem (representing an ideal implementation).
Images of the phantom generated with traditional parallel geometry over its full 12 cm thickness exhibited blurring, as expected. When images were acquired with (unswitched) warping field patterns, much of this blurring was absent. However, the tubes still appeared distorted, particularly those farthest from the isocentre.
The authors believed that a switched set of warping fields – as would be present in any physical implementation of this technique – would remove the bulk of this residual distortion. Simulations with companion fields switched in tandem with the read gradients produced images with all of the tubes clearly discernible, successfully validating their technique.
The team is now planning to move this approach towards clinical application. “We expect to include a set of BEV coils within the Alberta (Edmonton) biplanar linac-MR hybrid design,” says Fallone.
The ability to assess the impact of radiation on malignant tumours during a course of radiotherapy could help improve its effectiveness for individual patients. Based on tumour response, physicians could modify the treatment regimen, dose and radiation field accordingly.
Israeli researchers have now demonstrated that thermography may provide a viable radiotherapy monitoring tool for such treatment optimization. They have developed a method to detect tumours in a thermal image and estimate changes in tumour and vasculature during radiotherapy, validating this in a study of six patients with advanced breast cancer (J. Biomed. Opt.23 058001).
Thermography had been rejected as a breast cancer detection tool, due to its suboptimal sensitivity and specificity. However, for an already detected tumour undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, it could prove a highly effective monitoring tool, when incorporating algorithms developed by the research team.
The multi-institutional team had conducted research on thermal imaging to understand tumour aggressiveness in animal models. They hypothesized that because malignant tumours are characterized by abnormal metabolic and perfusion rates, they will generate a different temperature distribution pattern compared with healthy tissue. By measuring skin temperature maps at the tumour location before and during treatment, the reaction of a tumour to radiotherapy can be measured.
Israel Gannot from Tel-Aviv University and co-authors developed a four-step algorithm to analyse the thermal images. First, images were converted from colour to grey scale and a fixed temperature range of 7°C set for all images, to enable comparison of the entropy (which characterizes the homogeneity of the image) in different images. Images were filtered using a Frangi filter designed to emphasize tubular structures. This filter highlighted blobs of heat (the malignant tumour) and long, narrow tubular objects (the blood vessel network). Images were enlarged sevenfold to observe local temperature changes in the blood vessels.
In the final step, feature extraction, the algorithm calculates entropy in the cropped thermal image of the tumour area and in the filtered tumour image. It then estimates changes in tumour regularity and vasculature shape during radiotherapy.
The six patients were women with stage IV breast cancer and distant metastatic disease. None had undergone surgical resection of their tumours, which had a diameter larger than 1 cm at a depth of less than 1 cm. All patients received 15 radiation fractions of 3 Gy, administered over three weeks.
The patients underwent thermal imaging before each radiotherapy session and a day after the end of the session. Room temperature and humidity were controlled during image acquisition and fluorescent lights were turned off. The thermal camera, positioned 1 m from the patient, acquired images containing either 320×256 or 320×240 pixels.
The authors report that entropy was reduced in the tumour areas, for all patients, during radiation treatment. They described the appearance of the tumour vasculature as “a crab with many arms”. To quantify changes in the shape of vascular networks, they converted the images into binary images and counted the number of objects before and after radiotherapy. They saw a reduction in the number of objects, indicating a reduction in the vessels supplying nutrients to the tumour.
The researchers selected breast cancer for the initial research because co-researcher Merav Ben-David, from Sheba Medical Center, specializes in breast cancer treatment. They are now looking at additional applications, such as the treatment of cervical cancer and head-and-neck cancer.
“We are collecting more data to run big data statistics,” Gannot tells Physics World. “We are also starting to implement the use of this technology as a tool for early warning of breast cancer by women at their home, using a thermal camera attached to a cell phone with our algorithms implemented in the smartphone app. This is intended for use in addition to mammography. It could fill the time span between mammography examinations when many cancers develop.”
In future research, the authors are planning to use thermal imaging devices with multiple angles and perform real-time analysis. They are planning larger studies to evaluate the efficacy of thermography to monitor radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments.
We’ve come a long way from the early days of radiotherapy. Thanks to years of research, the treatment cures many patients, and we’re now working on ways to make it smarter, kinder and more convenient for them.
Radiotherapy has an image problem. It has been used to treat cancer for more than 100 years – and some people still think of it as the fairly basic radiation treatment, with high rates of side-effects, that it was in those early years.
But in fact modern radiotherapy is sophisticated and targeted – treating 130,000 people in England alone each year, and curing more patients than all drugs combined.
While the principle behind radiotherapy has remained the same throughout time – killing cancer cells by damaging their DNA – the technique has developed enormously over the years.
Thanks to research carried out here at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, radiotherapy is now more precise and personalised than ever before, with the promise of more exciting advances to come.
Leading the way
Our scientists have been at the forefront of radiotherapy research since the founding of our radiotherapy department in the 1940s.
Our researchers pioneered a treatment called intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), working closely with hospital colleagues at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.
This high-precision method adjusts the X-ray beam used in radiotherapy to more closely fit the shape of the tumour. It is more effective than conventional radiotherapy and spares the surrounding healthy tissue, easing the side-effects of treatment.
Thanks to our research, IMRT has since become the standard of care in the UK for many types of cancer including prostate cancer and head and neck cancer.
In fact, the development of IMRT was recently highlighted by the National Institute for Health Research as one of 70 research discoveries that have transformed health and care in the NHS over the last 70 years.
Targeting radiotherapy in real time
Since then, we’ve been continuing to make improvements to the way radiotherapy is targeted.
We worked with The Royal Marsden on the development of image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT), which adjusts the radiotherapy beam according to feedback from a scanner that monitors patients’ movements during their treatment.
And, last year, we took this research to the next level, working with The Royal Marsden to open the UK’s first MR Linac unit, featuring a new type of radiotherapy machine.
The MR Linac precisely locates tumours, tailors the shape of X-ray beams in real time, and accurately delivers doses of radiation even to tumours that are moving, for example as a patient breathes.
Soon to be tested for the first time in patients, the machine should transform radiotherapy by targeting the treatment more precisely than ever before.
Fewer, stronger doses
But improved precision is only part of the puzzle. To make radiotherapy kinder for patients, ICR researchers are also reducing the number of doses needed.
The START clinical trials, led by Professors Judith Bliss and John Yarnold, found that a shorter course of radiotherapy – with fewer, stronger doses delivered over three weeks rather than five – is as good as a longer course for treating breast cancer.
CHHiP, a similar study in prostate cancer led by Professor David Dearnaley, has also found a shorter course of prostate cancer radiotherapy is as effective as the current standard treatment, and is changing the standard of care across the UK.
Both trials make radiotherapy more convenient and less tiring for patients – and are already saving the NHS tens of millions of pounds each year.
Our researchers are also looking at ways to improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy in the lab – for example by combining it with other treatments.
The ICR’s Professor Kevin Harrington recently showed that a triple therapy of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a targeted drug could be an effective new cancer treatment. The combination killed more head and neck cancer cells in the laboratory, and was more effective at treating tumours in mice, than any of the therapies individually.
His colleague Professor Alan Melcher showed that a modified virus could be used to target cancer cells in the brain – research that has already been adapted into a clinical trial, in which patients will be given the virus in combination with the standard treatment of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
And, earlier this year, Professor Harrington revealed that gene therapy could protect healthy tissues from the harmful side-effects of radiotherapy. By using a modified virus to deliver extra copies of the SOD2 gene, his research helped to limit the stress response to the harmful particles released by radiotherapy.
Support our work to refine radiotherapy
Developing kinder, more precise radiotherapy is just one area of our research made possible with the help of our supporters. Together we have made major progress in cancer research, but so much more needs to be done.
You can learn more about the ICR and our cancer research discoveries, by signing up to our bi-annual e-newsletter, Search. In it, you can read about our latest research, our brilliant fundraisers and opportunities to support our work so that we can continue to defeat cancer.
Michigan State University is hosting the summer 2018 session of the U.S. Particle Accelerator School, a national graduate-level training and workforce development program in accelerator science and engineering funded by the Office of High Energy Physics in the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC).
Particle accelerators are used in discovery science, medicine and high-tech industry. USPAS trains graduate students as well as scientists and engineers in rigorous courses that are designed to support the needs of the field.
More than 130 students from around the world are attending this intensive two-week session of USPAS, which includes nine courses. This is the third time that MSU has hosted USPAS. Of the 22 instructors teaching at this summer’s school, nine are from MSU. The MSU instructors are experts in accelerator physics, ion source physics and cryogenic engineering. They are affiliated with FRIB, the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, MSU’s physics and astronomy department and MSU’s mechanical engineering department.
Since 1981, USPAS has been recognized for excellence, and the school has had a positive impact on the field. The school is intended to not only to meet the needs of national laboratories, but also to educate people to develop particle accelerators for use in other fields, including industrial and medical applications.
Under construction on the MSU campus is the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a future DOE-SC scientific user facility, supporting the mission of the Nuclear Physics Office in DOE-SC. At the heart of FRIB is the most powerful, superconducting linear accelerator that will accelerate heavy ions to about half the speed of light. FRIB will enable scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes, supporting a community of currently 1,400 scientists.
Having a trained workforce in accelerator science and engineering is an important part of FRIB.
FRIB provides hands-on opportunities to train the next-generation accelerator science and engineering workers on a world-class accelerator. In collaboration with the College of Natural Science and the College of Engineering, FRIB attracts the best and brightest students into accelerator science and engineering.
“MSU has been a superb host of USPAS,” said Steve Lund, FRIB physics professor and USPAS director. “Courses are taking place in unique facilities on campus and the departments have sent many talented students and have provided a high level of instructor and grader support.”
USPAS sessions take place in June and January. The students are highly selected and motivated. They are from laboratories, private companies, government or the military. Some of the students have been working in the accelerator field and are expanding their skills to support and extend the latest technology as the field evolves.
USPAS collaborators include: MSU, Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, all U.S. DOE Office of Science labs; Los Alamos National Laboratory, a U.S. DOE National Nuclear Security Agency lab; and Cornell University.
MAGE:Researchers will use FACET-II to develop the plasma wakefield acceleration method, in which researchers send a bunch of very energetic particles through a hot ionized gas, or plasma, creating a plasma wake for a trailing bunch to “surf” on and gain energy. (Image credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)
The U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (Menlo Park, CA) has started to assemble a new facility for revolutionary accelerator technologies that could make future accelerators 100 to 1,000 times smaller and boost their capabilities. The project is an upgrade to the Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests (FACET), a DOE Office of Science user facility that operated from 2011 to 2016. FACET-II (https://facet.slac.stanford.edu/) will produce beams of highly energetic electrons like its predecessor, but with even better quality. These beams will primarily be used to develop plasma acceleration techniques, which could lead to next-generation particle colliders that enhance our understanding of nature’s fundamental particles and forces and novel X-ray lasers that provide us with unparalleled views of ultrafast processes in the atomic world around us.
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The DOE has now approved the $26 million project (Critical Decisions 2 and 3). The new facility, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, will also operate as an Office of Science user facility – a federally sponsored research facility for advanced accelerator research available on a competitive, peer-reviewed basis to scientists from around the world.
In conventional accelerators, particles draw energy from a radiofrequency field inside metal structures. However, these structures can only support a limited energy gain per distance before breaking down; therefore, accelerators that generate very high energies become very long and very expensive. The plasma wakefield approach promises to break new ground. Future plasma accelerators could, for example, unfold the same acceleration power as SLAC’s historic 2-mile-long copper accelerator (linac) in just a few meters.
Researchers will use FACET-II for crucial developments before plasma accelerators can become a reality. “We need to show that we’re able to preserve the quality of the beam as it passes through plasma,” said SLAC’s Mark Hogan, FACET-II project scientist. “High-quality beams are an absolute requirement for future applications in particle and X-ray laser physics.”
Another important objective is the development of novel electron sources that could lead to next-generation light sources, such as brighter-than-ever X-ray lasers. These powerful discovery machines provide scientists with unprecedented views of the ever-changing atomic world and open up new avenues for research in chemistry, biology and materials science.
FACET-II has issued its first call for proposals for experiments that will run when the facility goes online in 2020.