Paul Scherrer Institute inaugurates new unit against cancer

A state-of-the-art treatment unit for proton therapy has been inaugurated at the Paul Scherrer Institute, and the first cancer patient is expected to be treated in June. Unique in all of Switzerland, the unit was developed by researchers and a medtech company.

Scanderbeg Sauer Photography
Image Credit: Scanderbeg Sauer Photography/PSI

The Centre for Proton Therapy at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) was founded around 30 years ago and has treated more than 8,000 patients in that time. Thanks to the PSI technology, tumours can be irradiated directly with protons, without damaging the surrounding tissue. The third generation of the PSI proton therapy unit – Gantry 3 – is now open.

According to a statement, Gantry 3 weighs 270 tonnes and has a diameter of 10.5 metres, making it the largest machine installed to date at the Centre for Proton Therapy. But according to PSI, patients don’t notice this: they see only a white-clad wall, which hides the actual gantry. The beam head, from which the proton beam emerges, is in a cabinet above the patient couch. The beam covers a distance of 50 metres from its source in the particle accelerator to the beam head. Only in the last few metres does it run through the gantry.

Gantry 3 promises shorter waiting times for patients with cancer. “With Gantry 3, we can offer highly effective proton therapy to more patients than ever before, because we have more capacity,” said Damien Weber, head and chairman of the proton therapy centre at PSI. “That will be especially beneficial for children, for whom a conventional cancer irradiation would be too risky. With the proton therapy, we irradiate a tumour more accurately and better protect the healthy tissue around it.”

Gantry 3 was developed in close collaboration with the University Hospital Zurich and the University of Zurich. The company Varian Medical Systems also took part in the project.

“In Gantry 3 we brought two different worlds together: the industrial partners with their know-how and PSI with its many years of experience in fundamental research and the development of innovative solutions for proton therapy,” explained Weber.

The first patient at Gantry 3 is expected to be treated in June.

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