Science and Technology Facilities Council
New research brings us a step closer to treating cancer using laser-driven proton therapy
New UK-led research has taken us a step closer to alternative methods of treating cancers using proton beams accelerated by lasers, a method that can be less damaging to patients than other treatments. The research used STFC’s Central Laser Facility’s (CLF) Gemini laser system to increase our understanding of how ultrashort proton pulses affect human cells.
Proton therapy has emerged as a better way to treat some cancers compared to conventional radiotherapy because proton beams can target tumours without damaging the surrounding organs or tissue. It is often used to treat brain tumours in young children whose organs and tissues are still developing. The technique is also used to target cancers in particularly vulnerable parts of the body, like the liver, lungs, head and neck, prostate and breast.
Currently high-energy proton beams are delivered using large and expensive infrastructure in clinical settings, which means that scientists are searching for approaches that could prove cheaper, be more flexible and clinically more effective. A new study by an interdisciplinary team led by Professor Marco Borghesi and Professor Kevin Prise from Queen’s University Belfast looked at how lasers could provide an alternative method of accelerating and delivering the proton beam for therapy.
However, conventional and laser-based accelerators are significantly different. The radiation dose using laser-driven proton beams is delivered in an extremely short time period compared to conventional sources. Ions are emitted from the laser source in less than a trillionth of a second, typically reaching the target in pulses of a thousand millionth of a second. This research looked at whether laser-driven beams will have the same biological effects compared to the conventional sources.
Lead author Professor Borghesi yesterday said:
“This experiment contributes to unravelling some of the underlying biological processes, and shows that laser-driven techniques for producing high-energy particle beams are already mature enough to allow controlled radiobiology experiments in a high-power laser laboratory.”
The project used Gemini’s laser pulses to investigate the effects of irradiating human skin cells with the proton beam, a key step before lasers can be adopted in a clinical environment to treat cancer. It looks specifically at how DNA damage in human skin cells is repaired after being targeted by a laser accelerated proton beam compared to how it is repaired after using conventional sources. The research shows that the effect is similar, suggesting that laser proton beams could be used to target cancer cells as successfully as conventional accelerators.
In addition, evidence is currently emerging indicating that ultrashort dose delivery could reduce the damage inflicted on healthy cells affected by radiation on the way to the tumour. Researchers plan to investigate this effect further in upcoming experiments at CLF, which will also look at the effect of ultrashort pulses on brain tumour cells in addition to normal cells and will use three dimensional cells structures rather than planar cell cultures used in this study.
CLF’s Dr Rajeev Pattathil yesterday said:
“A high-intensity, short pulse laser like Gemini provides the right conditions for producing these high energy ion beams. This makes the system ideal to investigate how useful lasers could be in proton therapy.”
This paper was published in Scientific Reports: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-40339-6
This research was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s A-SAIL consortium (https://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/A-SAILProject/) which includes researchers from Strathclyde University and Imperial College London as well as Queen’s and CLF.
Latest News from
Science and Technology Facilities Council
UK World Heritage Site officially becomes home to the HQ of the Earth's biggest ever radio telescope11/07/2019 13:05:00
Jodrell Bank in the UK has today officially become the home of the new international organisation behind what will soon be the World’s biggest ever radio telescope – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
Nanoco: developing new techniques to detect and treat cancer09/07/2019 09:17:00
Nanoco is using expertise in nanomaterials for use in displays and lighting to develop better ways of detecting and treating deadly forms of cancer.
UK student scientists discover rare evolved star04/07/2019 13:05:00
A group of UK students have discovered a rare evolved star, with support and funding from STFC, as part of a project to identify targets for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
Celebrating science with space-themed carnival03/07/2019 12:05:00
Scientists are working with young people in Oxford to design and build colourful creations that celebrate the best of UK science for this year’s Cowley Road Carnival, thanks to funding from STFC.
How did our Milky Way take shape?02/07/2019 10:05:00
Puzzles like this soon to be solved thanks to an international team led by scientists and engineers in Scotland.
Ancient skeletons give up their secrets thanks to neutron scattering01/07/2019 15:05:00
Neutrons have revealed unique details of funeral, burial and cooking practices of past civilisations, thanks to a study of ancient skeletal remains carried out at the UK’s ISIS Neutron and Muon Source (ISIS) research facility.
Harwell Space Cluster Grows to 92 Organisations Employing 1,04028/06/2019 15:05:00
In the last six months the Harwell Space Cluster has added 14 new companies to its impressive roster, now comprised of 92 organisations including STFC RAL Space, the UK and European Space Agencies and The Satellite Applications Catapult.
Siemens, Atos and STFC launch ground-breaking partnership to help businesses adopt Industry 4.0 technologies26/06/2019 17:02:00
Siemens Digital Industries, Atos and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre have today launched a ground-breaking Industrial Digitalisation Accelerator (IDA) to offer businesses a practical, collaborative space to explore Industry 4.0 technologies.