Technology | July 25, 2007

Innovative Physics Device May Revolutionize Cancer Treatment

Using innovative physics, researchers have proposed a system that may one day bring proton therapy, a state-of-the-art cancer treatment method currently available only at a handful of centers, to radiation treatment centers and cancer patients everywhere. Compared to the X-rays conventionally used in radiation therapy, protons are potentially more effective, as they can deposit more cell-killing energy in their tumor targets and less in surrounding healthy tissue. However, to kill tumors, the protons must be accelerated to sufficiently high energies, which currently must be achieved in large, expensive devices called cyclotrons or synchrocyclotrons that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and occupy a room the size of basketball courts.

Thomas Mackie, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and co-founder of the radiation therapy company TomoTherapy, will present a proton-therapy design based on a much smaller device known as a "dielectric wall accelerator" (DWA). Currently being built as a prototype at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the DWA can accelerate protons to up to 100 million electron volts in just a meter. A two-meter DWA could potentially supply protons of sufficiently high energy to treat all tumors, including those buried deep in the body, while fitting in a conventional radiation treatment room.

The DWA is a hollow tube whose walls consist of a very good insulator (a dielectric). When most of the air is removed from the tube to create a vacuum, the tube can structurally withstand the very high electric-field gradations necessary for accelerating protons to high energies in a short distance.

In addition to its smaller size, a DWA-based proton therapy system would have another benefit—it could vary both proton energy and proton-beam intensity, two variables that cannot both be adjusted at the same time in existing proton-treatment facilities. This capability could lead to "intensity-modulated proton therapy" (IMPT), the proton version of the x-ray-based intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) technique which has become a popular method for delivering precise radiation doses to the parts of a tumor. Mackie cautions that clinical trials of the system are at least five years away. But if the DWA approach proves feasible, protons may eventually represent a widespread, rather than limited, option for treating cancer.

Related Content

Videos | ASTRO | November 08, 2018
ITN Editor Dave Fornell took a tour of some of the most innovative technologies on display on the expo floor at the 
Proton Therapy for Pediatric Brain Tumors Has Favorable Cognitive Outcomes
News | Proton Therapy | November 06, 2018
Proton therapy treatment for pediatric brain tumor patients is associated with better neurocognitive outcomes compared...
A model of the new, compact, single-room Varian ProBeam 360 system. The system is an example of the trend in proton therapy toward single-room, smaller systems and away from multi-room treatment centers. #ASTRO18 #ASTRO2018

A model of the new, compact, single-room Varian ProBeam 360 system. The system is an example of the trend in proton therapy toward single-room, smaller systems and away from multi-room treatment centers.

Feature | Proton Therapy | November 01, 2018 | Dave Fornell, Editor
A few of the big takeaways from the American Societ...
Victoria Advisory Committee for Proton Therapy Launched at ASTRO 2018
News | Proton Therapy | October 29, 2018
At the 2018 American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting, IBA announced the launch of the Victoria...
Beaumont Hospital Cancer Institute Performs First Irradiation of Spot Scanning Proton Arc Therapy Plan
News | Proton Therapy | October 25, 2018
IBA announced the first irradiation of a Spot Scanning Proton Arc (SPArc) plan at the Beaumont Health Proton Therapy...
Varian Introduces New ProBeam 360° Proton Therapy System
News | Proton Therapy | October 23, 2018
Varian announced its new single-room proton therapy system, ProBeam 360°, at the 2018 American Society of Radiation...
Amar U. Kishan, M.D., presents data about stereotactic body radiation therapy at ASTRO 2018. #ASTRO #ASTRO18 #ASTRO2018

Amar U. Kishan, M.D., presents data about stereotactic body radiation therapy at ASTRO 2018.

Feature | Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) | October 23, 2018 | By Greg Freiherr
With its shorter course of treatment,...
IBA's Proteus system and proton therapy solutions will be discussed at ASTRO 2018. #ASTRO18 #ASTRO #ASTRO2018
News | Proton Therapy | October 19, 2018
October 19, 2018 – IBA (Ion Beam Applications S.A.) is sharing how hospitals can secure performance, investment and t
Feature | Proton Therapy | October 04, 2018 | By Adam Conner-Simons
Investigating inside the human body often requires cutting open a patient or swallowing long tubes with built-in...