The annual meeting of ENLIGHT (European Network for Light Hadron Therapy), which gathers experts working worldwide in centres and research institutions for particle therapy for cancer treatment, was hosted this year by the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics (Nikhef) and the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, from 15-17 September. Chaired by the co-coordinator of ENLIGHT, Manjit Dosanjh, and the local organisers, Els Koffeman and Jan Visser from Nikhef, the meeting was attended by almost 100 participants from 15 countries.
The Netherlands took centre stage at the ENLIGHT meeting: four brand new centres for proton therapy in the Netherlands are currently at various phases of completion as a consequence of the recent approval by the Dutch government of a plan for making proton therapy available nationwide. The establishment of these centres and their mode of collaboration for making this cancer treatment available throughout the country was indeed one of the key points of discussion of the meeting.
Many other hot topics were discussed, including recent progress and technological breakthroughs in medical imaging, the importance of using a standard “normal tissue control probability” (NTCP) model for selecting patients for treatment with particles (protons, carbon and so on), and the need for access to and sharing of clinical data for selecting patients and monitoring outcomes.
Two full sessions were dedicated to medical imaging, given its key role in delivering an effective dose to the target tumour site while minimising the side effects on healthy tissues: the volume and position of the tumour has to be assessed before, after and during treatment whenever possible by using a whole range of imaging tools, such as the Positron Emission Tomography (PET), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT) scans,– alone or in combination. Moving organs such as lungs present a challenging task for medical imaging, since the position of the tumour has to be monitored while it is being treated. The integration of MRI with a linear accelerator, for example, can provide image-guidance that is simultaneous with treatment, thus reducing the patient’s exposure to the additional ionising radiation of CT scans.
Time was also given to young researchers: on the second day of meeting the authors of three winning posters were given the chance to present their work to the ENLIGHT participants.
For the first time since the establishment of the network in 2002, this year the annual ENLIGHT meeting concluded with a one-day training session on key aspects of particle therapy, including radiobiology, medical imaging and data sharing. In fact, particle therapy centres require highly trained staff, and yet few experts exist in this rapidly expanding field. The training session was highly appreciated by the members of the community, so a similar course will be offered at the next annual meeting, to be held in June 2017.
The location selected for next year is Aarhus, which will be the home of the first particle therapy centre in Denmark, and the meeting will coincide with the installation of the cyclotron in the facility.