The European hadron therapy community touches base

The European hadron therapy community gathered in Stockholm from 3 to 5 September for the annual ENLIGHT workshops. Three of the four EC-funded projects born under the umbrella of ENLIGHT (see box) were discussed in the prestigious Nobel Forum at the Karolinska Institutet.

Souvenir photo from the ENLIGHT workshops
On its second birthday, the PARTNER Initial Training Network was especially under the spotlight, as the European Commission conducted a formal project review bringing together the institutes, companies and young researchers involved. The 21 PARTNER researchers experienced the thrill of presenting their work in this privileged setting. During the coffee breaks, they joked about this being their only chance in life to speak in the Nobel Forum – but who knows what these brilliant young minds will achieve! They certainly impressed the European Commission’s Project Officer Gianluca Coluccio and Expert Reviewer Kaisa Hellevuo, who stated that PARTNER is a showcase project demonstrating what the EC wants to accomplish with Marie Curie Training Networks. They were particularly captivated by the multi-disciplinary nature of PARTNER and the quality of the Fellows' training and research - so much so that they even asked PARTNER to submit a follow-up project in the next round of project proposals in January 2011!

In addition to the scientific achievements, PARTNER is certainly providing a unique life experience to its researchers: when interviewed about the added benefits of carrying out their studies within such a network, all of them enthusiastically described the interaction with their fellow PARTNER researchers, and the word “friend” was certainly more used than “colleague”. They all adopted the words of the project coordinator, Manjit Dosanjh from CERN: “You now have friends from 15 countries”.

After the success of PARTNER’s Mid-Term Review, the annual meeting of ULICE and the general meeting of ENVISION bathed in the same positive and collaborative atmosphere. Besides the detailed status reports on the projects’ various aspects, three plenary talks gave a broader perspective of the current challenges in hadron therapy. Anders Brahme, whose groundbreaking paper published in 1988 laid the theoretical foundation of IMRT, offered a visionary overview of future hadron treatment facilities in Sweden. Then came Wolfgang Enghardt, who had led the development of the first PET device for real-time hadron therapy monitoring (the so called in-beam PET): he traced the history of medical imaging, reviewed the state-of-the-art in the field and described the steps needed to advance towards true real-time in-vivo dosimetry. The last plenary talk was given by Stephanie Combs, a radiation oncologist at the first European carbon ion treatment facility in Heidelberg, who presented the requirements and wishes of the medical community for future medical imaging tools.

After a final picture in front of Alfred Nobel’s statue, the participants said goodbye to Stockholm. The ENLIGHT gathering has once again been successful in bringing together experts from many different fields from many countries, who will continue to exchange ideas and information all over Europe, for the benefit of cancer therapy.

CERN’s involvement in ENLIGHT

Manjit Dosanjh, CERN’s Life Sciences Advisor and member of the KTT Group, is also co-ordinator of the ENLIGHT network and some of the related programmes. Established in 2002 to coordinate the European efforts in hadron therapy, today the network counts more than 300 participants from twenty European countries. A major achievement of ENLIGHT has been the blending of traditionally separate communities so that clinicians, physicists, biologists and engineers with experience and interest in particle therapy are working together.

Under the umbrella of ENLIGHT, there are currently four EC-funded projects; PARTNER, ENVISION and ENTERVISION, co-ordinated by CERN and ULICE, co-ordinated by CNAO. With a total funding of 24 million euros, these projects are directed towards the various aspects of developing, establishing and optimising hadron therapy.

PARTNER is a four-year Marie Curie Training project that offers research and training opportunities to 25 young biologists, engineers, physicians and physicists. Currently, CERN is hosting four PARTNER fellows. The ULICE project addresses the issue of designing optimal and standardised hadron therapy facilities, providing access to existing facilities and sharing knowledge. ENVISION focuses on the development of medical imaging techniques and protocols for quality assurance during treatment. The last born, ENTERVISION, will complement ENVISION by providing training in the imaging field and will start in February 2011.

Watch the movie: 

by Audrey Ballantine, Manuela Cirilli, Evangelia Dimovasili, Manjit Dosanjh, Seamus Hegarty