Using accelerator technology to treat cancer is one of the most compelling examples of how particle physics can have an impact on the lives of people all over the world. A growing subset of this field is hadron therapy, which uses protons and light ions to treat cancer. From February 21-26 at CERN, the PARTNER network (Particle Training Network for European Radiotherapy) held a workshop entitled, “Hadron therapy: past, present and future,” to provide young researchers with a glimpse of both what the field has done and what they may someday do.
A growing body of research has confirmed that the use of protons or light ions can be a more effective approach than conventional radiotherapy for certain cancer patients. Using beams of hadrons, oncologists can target deep-seated tumors with greater precision. This means that tumors located in sensitive areas could be treated with less damage to surrounding tissue. Hadron therapy has also been successfully applied to radioresistant tumors; meaning that it is a viable alternative for patients who cannot be treated through conventional radiotherapy for cancer.
In the nearly seventy years since the idea of treating cancer with hadrons was proposed, great strides have been made in its research and application. The PARTNER network, coordinated at CERN, is fueling this research for the next generation. Designed as a training program for young researchers, PARTNER brings together students from ten European institutes.
“Look around you,” observed Joanna Gora, a student with MedAustron in Vienna. She gestured across the coffee space, crowded with students and lecturers. “You see people from all over the world. Everyone is doing something similar so it’s an opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other.”
The workshop discussed past and future accelerator development, and topics included cancer management, radiobiology, medical ethics, and the use of grid computing.
Workshop speakers included the co-founders of the Particle Therapy Cancer Research Institute of Oxford, Bleddyn Jones and Ken Peach. Peach, who serves as director of the John Adams Institute for Accelerator Science of Oxford and Royal Holloway University of London, discussed current and potential accelerator applications used in a medical context, including cyclotrons, synchrotrons, compact linear accelerator, and laser-plasma ion accelerators.
“Accelerator physicists use a different language than radiobiologists,” Peach observed during his talk, alluding to the importance of bridging the at times daunting gap between physics and biology.
This idea is crucial to the field of hadron therapy and core to PARTNER’s interdisciplinary approach. The lectures reflected this and were geared to inform students of various scientific backgrounds. The workshop’s success in this regard was reflected in the participants’ enthusiasm about the intersection of different fields.
“This is very useful because we can be updated on what is happening beyond our field of study—in my case, this means with the accelerators and technological modifications,” explained Ahmad Esmaili Torshabi, a researcher working with the hadron therapy facility at the Fondazione CNAO in Pavia, Italy.
The workshop, therefore, became a crossing ground for scientific fields and ideas, as well as people. Ideally, this cross-fostering can be continued throughout the careers of the trainees. The benefit of such a dialogue was clear when students were asked to comment on how this kind of international and interdisciplinary dialogue could affect the future of the field:
“I think we will see these technologies spread out,” said Giovanna Martino, studying at GSI Darmstadt in Germany. “Across European countries, and around the world.”
You can learn more about the PARTNER program by visiting their website.