Fight cancer with LIGHT, a new proton accelerator for therapy

Fight cancer with LIGHT

Model of the LIGHT accelerator, including treatment room. Credit: AVO

Hadron radiation oncology, a method that CERN contributed to by pushing carbon ion therapy of radioresistant tumors into the medical world some thirty years ago, has treated more than 300,000 patients to date. As partnerships and projects have grown over the decades, new approaches aimed at improving and democratizing this type of cancer care have come to life.

Among these methods, treatment with proton beams from ring accelerators stands out as a particularly effective treatment: protons can eliminate tumors and spare surrounding healthy tissue at a faster rate than conventional electron or photon therapy. Unfortunately, current proton and ion therapy facilities are large and very demanding on the design of accelerators and control systems.

Advanced Oncotherapy (AVO), a London-based company that has further developed and is commercializing CERN’s expertise in medical particle accelerators, aims to change that picture. The highly adaptable Linac Image-Guided Hadron Technology (LIGHT) accelerator developed by ADAM, a subsidiary of AVO in Geneva, provides a proton beam that allows ultra-high dose rates to be delivered to deep-seated tumors.

It is based on RFQ CERN technology, and a good example of knowledge transfer from CERN to societal applications, supported by CERN’s KT Group. LIGHT reached a maximum treatment energy of 230 MeV at the STFC Daresbury site (UK) on 26 September and is preparing to treat its first patients in collaboration with University Hospital Birmingham (UHB).

LIGHT, the first linear accelerator used for proton cancer therapy worldwide, operates with components and designs developed by CERN, ENEA and the TERA Foundation for three parts of the accelerator in a row that would be both affordable and compact, an important requirement for the medical sector.

Notable parts include LIGHT radio waves (designed by CERN), which contribute to its compact design, as well as ten radio wave modules consisting of side-coupled accelerator wells based on the TERA Foundation design. Each unit is controlled to change the beam energy 200 times per second, depending on the depth of the tumor layer. The linac design reduces beam loss, stray radiation and therefore the amount of shielding material required.

This innovative design allows the linear accelerator to generate an extremely focused beam of 70 to 230 MeV and target tumors in three dimensions, by changing the depth at which the radiation dose is delivered much faster than current ring accelerators can.

Four years after the first 16-metre-long prototype was built and tested at LHC Point 2, this new cancer drug will treat its first patients at Daresbury in the second half of 2023. Of course, this is only the beginning of what is bound to be a long journey, as AVO hopes their new 25-meter-long design will change the landscape of cancer treatment in the long term by enabling the development of new dose delivery methods based on faster energy variations and more targeted beams.

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