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UK-first experiments at CLARA play key role in radiotherapy research

Experiments at Daresbury Laboratory’s CLARA accelerator are part of a major research project studying the potential for an alternative form of radiotherapy to treat deep seated tumours.

Radiotherapy uses particles or waves, such as x-rays, gamma rays or protons, to destroy or damage cancer cells by damaging their DNA so that they stop dividing or die. When the damaged cells die they are broken down and eliminated by the body’s natural processes.

Now a research team from the University of Manchester is evaluating the potential for the use of very high energy electrons (VHEE) in radiotherapy. It is believed that radiotherapy using VHEE, at up to 250 million electron volts, could be significantly cheaper and even more effective than existing forms of radiotherapy, providing a very high dose of radiation penetrating deep into tissue (up to 40cm), whilst limiting damage to the surrounding healthy tissue, avoiding complications further down the line. 

Led by the University of Manchester’s Professor Roger M. Jones, and guided by STFC’s Dr Deepa Angal-Kalinin, the team has recently been carrying out experiments at Daresbury Laboratory’s CLARA accelerator as part of this project, to gain a deeper understanding into the biological effects of very high energy electrons on the human body, and their effect on the healthy DNA tissue surrounding the cancer cells.  In addition, this new form of radiotherapy has the proven potential for accurately targeting tumour cells, whilst being unaffected by for example lung motion or other extraneous air pockets.  

CLARA is a unique particle accelerator designed specifically to develop, test and advance new technologies for the next generation of particle accelerator, providing a unique facility to provide ground-breaking experiments in many areas of research, including technologies to treat cancer.

This experiment at CLARA, the first of kind in the UK, involves firing short bunches of very high energy electrons close to the speed of light into water phantoms (representing the human body), and also into specially prepared DNA samples, for the purpose of precisely determining any DNA damage. 

Professor Jones said: “Radiotherapy using very high energy electrons is a particularly exciting area of research and could provide an additional dimension to the type of radiation therapy available to cancer patients in the future.  The experiments we have been carrying out at CLARA are a key part of our research as, until now, research in this area has been limited. The potential impact of our research could be significant.”

Daresbury Laboratory’s Professor Jim Clarke, Head of Science Division within ASTeC, said:  “The potential impact of this research, which brings together accelerator experts with radiotherapists and clinical oncologists, could one day change people’s lives for the better.  I’m thrilled that our CLARA accelerator is playing a key role in making this happen and I look forward to seeing the full results of Professor Jones’s research.

The results of this exciting research will be published in full by the University of Manchester in the near future.

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Last updated: 02 April 2019

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