Scientists anticipate that developments at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) will revolutionize cancer treatment in the United Kingdom and around the globe. The specialists have devised a variety of projects that considerably enhance the precision of proton beam radiotherapy, a type of radiotherapy treatment.
This therapy can more specifically target tumors without harming adjacent healthy tissue, thereby minimizing the side effects of radiotherapy, such as heart failure, pulmonary fibrosis, and secondary cancer, particularly in children. Proton beam radiotherapy, unlike conventional radiotherapy, can confine radiation primarily to the tumor, minimizing injury to adjacent healthy tissue.
To maximize the effectiveness of the treatment, however, the precision of the radiation dose from proton beam therapy must be comparable to that of conventional radiotherapy. In response, the NPL team has made what they characterize as three significant advancements.
They have been able to produce the Primary Standard Proton Calorimeter (PSPC), a highly accurate instrument for measuring and assuring radiation dose amounts. During testing, the researchers have also created novel synthetic materials that precisely mimic human tissue, such as bone and muscle.
Thirdly, they are conducting innovative measurements to demonstrate Flash RT, a new form of radiotherapy. The treatment is as effective as current methods, but it also avoids damaging vital tissue.
Transforming Pediatric Care: Flash Treatment Shortens Hospital Stays
According to the scientists, Flash can reduce the length of hospital stays for pediatric patients. Flash treatments can be administered in fewer or even single doses, as opposed to conventional radiotherapy, which is typically administered in fractions over the course of six weeks, with the patient required to visit the hospital daily.
Radiation therapy requires accurate dosimetry – the calculation of absorbed dose and the optimisation of dose delivery – to prevent errors that could result in a patient receiving an incorrect dose of radiation and a decreased chance of treatment success.
Presently, all types of radiotherapy result in the unintended but unavoidable deposition of radiation on healthy tissue surrounding the targeted tumor.
Studies have demonstrated that treatment with ultra-high dose rate (UHDR) radiation can substantially spare healthy tissue while being at least as effective as conventional dose rates in controlling the tumor. This phenomenon is known as the “Flash effect.”
Hannah Cook, a senior scientist at NPL, stated, “Proton therapy dosimetry and audit development is very interesting and rewarding research. “Our work aims to provide confidence to clinical centres offering proton therapy treatment in the UK and internationally, with the hope of improving cancer patient outcomes.”
Russell Thomas, leader of the scientific division at NPL, told the PA news agency that proton beam therapy has been around since the 1940s, but that only about 300,000 patients worldwide have been treated with it.
Approximately 160,000 patients are treated annually with conventional photon therapy in the United Kingdom, he added.
Mr. Thomas explained that cost has historically been one of the obstacles to photon beam therapy.
A proton beam machine can cost approximately £225 million, whereas a conventional machine costs only a few million pounds.
Currently, there are only two facilities for proton beam therapy in the United Kingdom: The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Mr. Thomas told the press that he believed there would one day be sufficient centres in the United Kingdom to manage the number of patients who could benefit.
He added, “I believe that with proton provision in the United Kingdom, we are treating somewhere between 5 and 20 percent of the radiotherapy population that would benefit.”I’d like to see at least 5% of patients treated.I’d also like to see investment in your company, as well as research into other particles and ion therapies.Different varieties of radiation, radiation beams, and radiation treatments will have varying radio biological efficacy.
“It would be fantastic if we could receive funding in the United Kingdom to investigate these at the radio biological level, at the pre-clinical level, so that we can determine whether it would be beneficial to follow this type of particle and begin developing this type of machine for the treatment of patients.”
Ana Lourenco, a senior scientist at the National Physical Laboratory, stated, “We are collaborating with the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) to develop a new Code of Practice (CoP) for reference dosimetry of proton beams.”The future IPEM CoP will utilize the NPL PSPC and offer a direct absorbed dose to water calibration service for proton therapy beams.””The establishment of consistent standards supported by the Community of Practice will not only benefit patients within and between treatment facilities, but will also set the groundwork for the development of clinical trials in proton therapy.”