PSI tests ultrafast tumor therapy

Researchers at the Centre for Proton Therapy at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) have tested ultrafast, high-dose irradiation with protons. This could revolutionize radiation therapy for cancer and save patients many weeks of treatment.

Member of the PSI research team Serena Psoroulas with the experimental set-up.
Member of the PSI research team Serena Psoroulas with the experimental set-up. Image Credit: Paul Scherrer Institut/Mahir Dzambegovic

A new chapter is beginning in the success story of proton therapy at the PSI, a press release reveals. PSI researchers at the Centre for Proton Therapy are currently testing whether ultrashort, high-dose, one-time irradiation called FLASH is also suitable for proton irradiation developed at the PSI. If so, this new technique could revolutionize radiation therapy for cancer patients.

“If we can achieve the high precision and the good outcome of proton therapy with FLASH irradiation without damaging healthy tissue, this would be a huge step forward,” explained Damien Weber. This means patients would “only have to come for radiation treatment a few times, ideally only one to five times. The treatment appointments that open up as a result would be available to other cancer patients”.

In contrast to electron beams, the protons used at the PSI even reach tumors deep inside the body. They can be stopped precisely at the site in the body where they should have their maximum effect on the cancer cells.

However, before the process is technically mature enough to be used routinely with patients, it will take many years of technical development and a great many tests. PSI researchers have now used their “know-how, which spans high-performance engineering, medical expertise and physics” to carry out the world’s first experiments in FLASH irradiation with the spot-scanning technology developed at the PSI. The first patient ever was also irradiated to heal a malignant tumor in the skin.

The PSI has a strong partner in the Lausanne University Hospital. The teams are working in parallel and simultaneously, irradiating tissue with protons at the PSI and with electron beams at the hospital. “Through our synergies in collaboration and our joint experiments, we hope to better understand and further develop FLASH technology,” adds Weber.

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