Belfast Telegraph

QUB researchers close to breakthrough on proton beam therapy for cancer treatment

The Gemini laser system at Queen's University
The Gemini laser system at Queen's University
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Researchers from Queen's University are one step closer to creating alternative methods of treating cancers which are less damaging to patients.

The Belfast team looked at how lasers could provide an alternative method of accelerating and delivering a proton beam for therapy.

They used the Gemini laser system at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Central Laser Facility to increase understanding of how ultra-short proton pulses affect human cells.

Proton therapy is believed to be a better way to treat some cancers compared to conventional radiotherapy because proton beams can target tumours without damaging the surrounding organs or tissue.

It is often used to treat brain tumours in young children whose organs and tissues are still developing.

The technique is also used to target cancers in particularly vulnerable parts of the body, like the liver, lungs, head and neck, prostate and breast.

High-energy proton beams are currently delivered using large and expensive infrastructure in clinical settings, which means that scientists are searching for approaches that could prove cheaper, more flexible and clinically more effective.

Researchers looked at whether laser-driven beams will have the same biological effects compared to the conventional sources.

They used laser pulses to investigate the effects of irradiating human skin cells with the proton beam, a key step before lasers can be adopted in a clinical environment to treat cancer.

They probed how DNA damage in human skin cells is repaired after being targeted by a laser-accelerated proton beam compared to how it is repaired after using conventional sources.

The research found that laser proton beams could be used to target cancer cells as successfully as conventional accelerators.

Lead author Professor Marco Borghesi said: "This experiment contributes to unravelling some of the underlying biological processes and shows that laser-driven techniques for producing high-energy particle beams are already mature enough to allow controlled radiobiology experiments in a high-power laser laboratory."

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