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Daresbury Laboratory plays key role in groundbreaking radiotherapy research

A UK-first experiment at the Compact Linear Accelerator for Research and Applications (CLARA) facility, at STFC's Daresbury Laboratory, is part of a groundbreaking research project studying the potential for an alternative form of radiotherapy for treating cancer.

The research, which was led by the University of Manchester and the Christie NHS Foundation Trust, with guidance from accelerator scientists at Daresbury Laboratory, studied the effectiveness of using very high-energy electron (VHEE) beams as an alternative form of radiotherapy for treating deep tumours that are hard to reach.

Radiotherapy uses particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells by damaging their DNA so that they stop dividing or die. Scientists believe that radiotherapy using VHEE beams, at up to 250 million electron volts (MeV), could be significantly cheaper and even more effective at treating deep-seated tumours than existing forms of radiotherapy, and can be less damaging to surrounding healthy tissue.

Targeting tumours at the speed of light

First promising results from this research, now published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, report that VHEE beams are as effective at damaging DNA in cancer cells as those of conventional X-Rays and proton therapy. Furthermore, they can more accurately and powerfully target tumours deep within the body (up to 40cm), whilst keeping damage to the surrounding tissue to a minimum. As a result, this technique could also lead to a reduction in the number of follow-up radiotherapy treatments required by the patient.  

Daresbury Laboratory’s CLARA is a unique particle accelerator designed specifically to develop, test and advance new accelerator technologies. It enables groundbreaking experiments in many areas of research. This particular experiment at CLARA was the first of kind in the UK. It involved firing short bunches of electrons up to 40 MeV, which is close to the speed of light, into water phantoms (representing the human body), and into specially prepared DNA samples to precisely determine DNA damage. This was followed by similar experiments carried out at a higher beam energy at the CLEAR facility at CERN in Switzerland.

STFC’s Professor Deepa Angal-Kalinin, Head of the CLARA facility, said:

“This is a very exciting area of research, the impact of which could one day change our lives for the better. I am pleased to see that the experiment developed at the CLARA facility here at Daresbury Laboratory was successfully repeated at higher beam energy at CERN. These first promising results clearly show the required DNA damage in cells when irradiated with a very high energy electron beam.”

The University of Manchester’s Professor Roger Jones, said:

"This paper represents a significant step in verifying the potential of Very High Energy Electron beams to treat cancer. It relies on a seamless collaboration of The University of Manchester's Department of Physics and Astronomy, The Division of Cancer Sciences, Daresbury Laboratory and CERN, and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.

Read about this research in more detail at the University of Manchester website.

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Last updated: 07 May 2021


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