Research joins forces with industry in the fight against cancer

The Geneva-based Application of Detectors and Accelerators to Medicine (A.D.A.M. SA) has recently completed the first unit of an innovative linear accelerator for hadron therapy applications. The design of the new unit is based on pioneering studies carried out by the TERA Foundation a few years ago. Assembled at CERN in the framework of a partnership agreement with the company, this first module is now ready to leave Switzerland for Rome, where it will undergo some important performance tests.


The first unit of LIGHT was unveiled on 20 November. The ceremony was attended by Sergio Bertolucci, CERN Director for Research, Rolf Heuer, CERN Director-General, Alberto Colussi, Director of ADAM SA, President Carlo Lamprecht and Domenico Campi, ADAM SA Board Members, and Ugo Amaldi, President of the TERA Foundation.

The Linac for Image-Guided Hadron Therapy (LIGHT) is the innovative linear accelerator designed by A.D.A.M. SA to revolutionise hadron therapy facilities by simplifying the infrastructure and making them profitable from an industrial point of view, while ensuring better beam quality. “Today proton beams for advanced cancer radiation treatment are produced either by cyclotrons, which need an energy selection system to adjust the beam energy to the value required by the specific treatment, or complex synchrotrons. When Ugo Amaldi told me that, according to studies carried out by the TERA Foundation, proton beams for hadron therapy could be produced by a 16-metre-long linear accelerator, I decided to accept the challenge to bring the project forward and to industrialise this research,” explains Alberto Colussi, director and founder of A.D.A.M. SA, established in December 2007. Requiring only a few milliseconds to change energy and with its 200 Hz repetition rate, the LIGHT accelerator allows a "multi-painting" treatment of moving organs.

A.D.A.M. SA took the original ideas of the TERA Foundation and adapted them to the needs of a modern medical centre. “Given the dimensions and the modularity of the LIGHT system, the new centres will be designed to house equipment which will be much less bulky,” confirms Colussi. In addition, the innovative concept developed by A.D.A.M. SA includes the absence of rotating gantries, the heavy devices used to direct the beam exactly to the target. “We have replaced the gantry with a mobile bed of novel design that allows operators to adjust the position of the patient to the needs of the treatment. This will reduce the costs compared to a traditional hadron therapy facility, allowing a larger number to be constructed,” adds Colussi.

LIGHT has its roots in fundamental research but it is now ready to be developed on an industrial level and will eventually be opened up to the worldwide market. “Working in collaboration with CERN has been very exciting: here there are no limits to the imagination, while in industry it is always necessary to deal with profit,” says Colussi.

Once all the tests with radiofrequency at CERN have been completed, the first unit of LIGHT will be heading to Rome, where it will undergo performance tests. If all goes well, A.D.A.M. SA plans to retail the first industrially produced LIGHT modules within two years.

The First Unit of LIGHT is designed for a 30 MeV injected proton beam produced by either a linac or a cyclotron, and its energy gain is 12 MeV. Since the LIGHT concept is a modular one, the output energy of three similar units is 65 MeV, used to treat eye tumours.

The output energy can be increased by adding other units. In a typical 230 MeV installation, corresponding to an 18m long medical linac, the radiofrequency (RF) power sources are each physically positioned along its length. The accelerating modules are longer as the beam progresses down the linac, because of the increasing beam velocity.

To accelerate protons by 200 MeV in less than twenty metres, the chosen frequency is 3GHz, which is standard for electron linacs but has never been used before for protons.

The RF power pulses produced by the klystron are transmitted through a waveguide. The beam energy modulation needed to correctly cover the target tumour depth is obtained electronically by changing the peak RF power applied to the accelerating modules. The pulsed klystron-modulators provide this change of RF power in a few milliseconds.

The First Unit equipment is computer-controlled from two desk-top computers connected to the control system.

by Francesco Poppi