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Clinical trials using carbon ions begin at CNAO

This week, for the first time at the CNAO hadrontherapy centre in Italy, a beam of carbon ions was used to treat a cancer patient


Clinical trials using carbon ions begin at CNAO

The treatment room at CNAO (Image: CNAO)

This week, for the first time at the National Centre for Oncological Hadrontherapy (CNAO) in Pavia, Italy, beams of carbon ions were used to treat a cancer patient. The accelerator complex which provides beams for CNAO is based on the Proton Ion Medical Machine Study (PIMMS), a design study that took place at CERN from 1995 to 2000 and involved researchers from CERN, TERA Foundation and MedAustron.

In hadrontherapy, beams of strongly interacting particles such as protons or ions are used to treat cancers. Hadrontherapy, in particular with carbon beams,  may be useful in cases where tumours are responding poorly to conventional radiotherapy. Because beams of protons or ions can be very precisely targeted, they are well suited to treating deep-seated tumours or those located close to critical organs.

CNAO started treating patients with proton beams in September 2011, and so far 42 patients have been treated with protons in the framework of five different clinical trials.
This is the centre’s first clinical trial with carbon ions. Carbon ions are heavy relative to protons and can destroy tumorous cells that protons would leave intact. CNAO is the second centre in Europe to provide such ion beams for cancer therapy, after the Heidelberg Ion-Beam Therapy Centre (HIT) begans clinical trials in 2009.

CERN participated in the design and construction of the CNAO accelerator complex, notably with the magnets, the radiofrequency cavity, dipole measurements and beam diagnostics.

“CERN’s contribution to CNAO doesn’t stop there,” says CNAO General Manager and Technical Director Sandro Rossi. The centre is one of more than 50 institutes that make up the European network for light ion hadrontherapy (ENLIGHT). Created in 2002 to foster effective collaborations between medical doctors, biologists, physicists and engineers, the network is coordinated by CERN’s life sciences advisor Manjit Dosanjh.

“Thanks to the research and networking facilitated by ENLIGHT, we take part in a knowledge exchange that is crucial for the advancement of a multidisciplinary and experimental area like hadrontherapy," says Rossi.

Further carbon ion trials are planned for the next months and through 2013.