Science and Technology Facilities Council
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Improving cancer treatments with proton imaging technology

Engineers at STFC’s Cockcroft Institute at Daresbury Laboratory are part of a major new project to develop more powerful proton imaging technology that could provide more accurate cancer treatments, particularly for adults.

Graeme Burt

The Cockcroft Institute’s Dr Graeme Burt
(Credit: STFC)

Cockcroft Institute engineers from Lancaster University and the University of Manchester are collaborating with clinicians at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and accelerator scientists from CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider, to develop imaging technology that can be retro-fitted on current proton beam therapy equipment - used in complex proton radiotherapy treatments at over 50 hospitals around the world.

Radiotherapy with protons is important in some cancer treatments, particularly in children, as its greater treatment accuracy can reduce side effects. Imaging with protons requires a smaller dose of protons than are used in treatment, but they need to be significantly more energetic, particularly for imaging adults. The prototype will boost the energy of the protons from the 250 Mega-electron volts (MeV) currently available from conventional systems, to 350 MeV that will be sufficient for imaging adults as well as children, enabling the most accurate pre-treatment images of patients yet.

The Cockcroft Institute’s Dr Hywel Owen, Lecturer in Accelerator Physics at the University of Manchester, and developer of the booster concept, said: “Whilst detectors for proton imaging are now being developed by several research groups, there is as yet no compact and cost-effective method of providing the 350 MeV protons needed for adults. Bridging this gap is the aim of our project.”

The project, funded by the partners and the Science and Technology Facilities Council, is headed up by Dr Graeme Burt, senior lecturer at Lancaster University’s Engineering Department, also at the Cockcroft Institute. He said: “Proton imaging will increase the accuracy of proton treatments to under one millimetre, which really counts when treating tumours near sensitive organs.”

Two NHS proton treatment centres are under construction in the UK. The Christie Proton Beam Therapy Centre in Manchester is one of them and is expected to start taking patients in 2018.

Dr Ranald MacKay, Director of Christie Medical Physics & Engineering, said: “As well as developing a clinical facility to treat 750 patients a year, The Christie Proton Beam Therapy Centre will be a national facility for proton research. This project is a good example of how scientists will work together to improve proton therapy in Manchester.”

The design of the technology will be tested with the assistance of CERN and a successful demonstration will be translated into clinical use for the benefit of patients in the UK and abroad.

This new project builds on work already being undertaken by STFC to link its own research community with the cancer research community to work on treatment solutions. This work includes the creation of a new nationwide network of medical practitioners, researchers and scientists, the Global Challenge Network+ in Advanced Radiotherapy that is being funded by a £915,000 grant from STFC.

View the full Lancaster University press release here.

The Cockcroft Institute

The Cockcroft Institute is a joint venture in Accelerator Science and Technology involving the Universities of Liverpool and Manchester, Lancaster University and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).


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