Zapping tumors in less than a second

December 28, 2018  Source: 56

Researchers at SLAC and Stanford are developing new accelerator-based technology that aims to speed up cancer radiation therapy by hundreds of times and make related medical devices more compact. The approach could reduce side effects in patients and possibly make radiation therapy more accessible around the world.

New accelerator-based technology being developed by the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University aims to reduce the side effects of cancer radiation therapy by shrinking its duration from minutes to under a second. Built into future compact medical devices, technology developed for high-energy physics could also help make radiation therapy more accessible around the world.

Now, the SLAC/Stanford team has received crucial funding to proceed with two projects to develop possible treatments for tumors -- one using X-rays, the other using protons. The idea behind both is to blast cancer cells so quickly that organs and other tissues don't have time to move during the exposure -- much like taking a single freeze frame from a video. This reduces the chance that radiation will hit and damage healthy tissue around tumors, making radiation therapy more precise.

"Delivering the radiation dose of an entire therapy session with a single flash lasting less than a second would be the ultimate way of managing the constant motion of organs and tissues, and a major advance compared with methods we're using today," said Billy Loo, an associate professor of radiation oncology at the Stanford School of Medicine.

Sami Tantawi, a professor of particle physics and astrophysics and the chief scientist for the RF Accelerator Research Division in SLAC's Technology Innovation Directorate, who works with Loo on both projects, said, "In order to deliver high-intensity radiation efficiently enough, we need accelerator structures that are hundreds of times more powerful than today's technology. The funding we received will help us build these structures."

By DOE/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory