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Tag archives: cancer

Proton-beam therapy explained

By James Dacey

The story of young brain-tumour patient Ashya King has gripped the British public over the past few weeks, with every twist and turn covered extensively in the media. In a nutshell, the five year old was removed from a hospital in Southampton at the end of August by his parents, without the authorization of doctors. They wanted their son to receive proton-beam therapy, which was not offered to them through the National Health Service (NHS). The family went to Spain in search of the treatment, triggering an international police hunt that subsequently saw the parents arrested before later being released.

The drama was accompanied by a heavy dose of armchair commentary, with Ashya’s parents, the hospital in Southampton and the police all receiving both criticism and praise. Even the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, got caught up in the affair, as he offered his personal support to the parents. To cut a long story short, Ashya’s parents finally got their wish and they have ended up at a proton-therapy centre in the Czech Republic where their son’s treatment begins today.

But what is proton therapy? It is a relatively new medical innovation that shows great promise in the treatment of cancer, though it is only currently available in certain countries. Beams of protons can be directed with precision at tumours in the body – allowing the energy to destroy cancer cells, while causing less damage to the surrounding tissue than is possible with conventional radiation therapies. The treatment, however, is only really useful in specific cases of cancer, such as where is vitally important that surrounding structures are not damaged. And because it is relatively new, there is less information available about how effective it is compared with more established treatments.

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Proton therapy is for the masses

Drawing of the proposed proton-therapy facility

Drawing of the proposed proton-therapy facility. (Courtesy: Umar Masood)

By Hamish Johnston

In the 25th anniversary issue of Physics World, I made the bold assertion that laser acceleration will bring particle therapy to the masses by removing the need for treatment centres to have large and expensive accelerators. Instead, therapeutic beams of protons and other charged particles will be made using compact and relatively inexpensive lasers.

Now, medical physicist Umar Masood and colleagues at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and the University of Dresden have published plans for a laser-driven proton-therapy facility.

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CERN creates new office for medical research

Steve Myers (far left) and colleagues at the LEIR facility

Steve Myers (far left) and colleagues at the LEIR facility.

By Hamish Johnston

Earlier this month my colleague Tami Freeman was at CERN where she had a tour of what will soon be the Geneva-based lab’s first major facility for biomedical research. Called BioLEIR, the facility is now being created by modifying the existing Low Energy Ion Ring (LEIR).

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Watch the Physics World Hangout about the physics of cancer

By James Dacey

A little earlier today we hosted a Google+ Hangout about the July issue of Physics World – a special issue about an emerging new research field called the “physics of cancer”. In case you were unable to join us for the live event (or would like to enjoy it all over again), you can watch it again via this YouTube recording.

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What is the greatest asset a physicist could bring to our understanding of cancer?

By James Dacey

 

Image of metastatic cancer cell

Confocal microscope image of a metastatic breast cancer cell. (Courtesy: Shawn Carey/Cynthia Reinhart-King)

When you think about the types of scientist involved in the study of cancer you probably wouldn’t immediately think of physicists. But a burgeoning field of research referred to as the “physics of cancer” is seeing physical scientists bring new tools and fresh perspectives to this most complicated of diseases. The July issue of Physics World – which can be downloaded for free – is a special issue that looks at some of the most fascinating experimental and theoretical work in this field.

After taking a look at the issue you might want to take part in this week’s Facebook poll:

What is the greatest asset a physicist could bring to our understanding of cancer?

Fresh pair of eyes on a longstanding problem

Ability to identify key variables within a complex system

Focus on physical properties such as forces and fields

Other (please suggest as a comment here or on our Facebook page)

To take part please visit our Facebook page.

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