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Future of Radiotherapy in the UK

The University of Surrey welcomes the Government’s announcement today (3 December) that improved radiotherapy strategies are going to be at the forefront of government policy in the fight against cancer.

This announcement is extremely timely, but it is extremely sad that the UK currently has no plans for the newest type of radiotherapy which uses charged particles rather than X-rays. This exciting new generation of radiotherapy, which delivers more damage to the tumour and much less to the surrounding healthy tissue, will especially benefit children and tumours that are more difficult to treat with conventional (photon) radiotherapy. A report on particle therapy was submitted to HMG by the National Radiotherapy Advisory Group (NRAG) last year.

There are now over 60 particle therapy facilities in various stages of operation, development and procurement in the USA and the rest of Europe, but none are currently planned for the UK. The UK does have a low energy facility at Clatterbridge which has been spectacularly successful in treating tumours of the surface of the eye but is too low energy to treat more common deeper-seated tumours.

The UK is in an excellent position to take advantage of particle therapy as there are excellent networks both on the clinical side (ACORRN) and between clinicians scientists and engineers (EPSRC Research Network on Biomedical Applications of High Energy Ion Beams). Moreover , the research infrastructure to take this research from bench to bedside is already in place, via the Wolfson Nanobeam Project at the University of Surrey and recent funding through the Research Councils Basic Technology programme (CONFORM and LIBRA) for the next generation of particle therapy machines , which aim to develop the next generation of ion sources for particle therapy.

In 2009 the UK will celebrate Rutherford’s experiments which helped to understand the atom and the role of the proton yet the UK is the only nation in Western Europe without plans to use this discovery, and protons for a charged particle facility.

Stuart Miller | alfa
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