Destroying deep-seated tumours

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Scientists at the University of Strathclyde are working on technology that could lead to a cheaper, safer way of destroying cancer tumours.

Treatment for deep-seated tumours currently relies on high-energy proton accelerators - machines so expensive that none are available in the UK.

Although the US, Japan, France and Germany have reported excellent results from the equipment, the £50m plus cost of each machine looks unlikely to decrease.

Now a team of Strathclyde physicists is looking to the future of a completely new therapy: a laser-driven treatment that could destroy deep-seated tumours while minimising the exposure of healthy tissue to radiation.

Scientists and clinicians from across the UK will meet at the University to discuss the feasibility of bringing the technology to cancer therapy of the future.

Professor Ken Ledingham, spokesman for the project, said: ‘Cancer is one of the UK's biggest killers, and although current particle technology is proving successful abroad, the huge cost has prevented treatment of tumours using particle beams from becoming widely available in the UK.

‘There is little scope for reducing the cost, and so we're calling on the scientific community to support a dedicated project to study the feasibility of an entirely new approach to cancer therapy.

‘Huge leaps in laser technology have already been made in recent years. High intensity lasers have the capacity to deliver very intense and short pulses, a unique feature that could allow the destruction of deep-seated tumours while minimising healthy tissue's exposure to radiation.

‘In addition, the radiation shielding for a laser-driven machine is considerably reduced, and its compact nature would allow them to be installed in existing major hospitals, rather than having to build entirely new facilities from scratch.’

The meeting will be hosted by the Universities of Strathclyde and Paisley, and is sponsored by the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA).