A common strategy for better health

Uniting physics, biology and medicine is no trivial exercise. The three disciplines might be seen as having different methodologies, issues and scientific approaches. However, there is one field – oncology – in which the three communities are putting their forces together to improve the health and well-being of patients.


The ICTR-PHE 2012 conference that will be held in Geneva from 27 February to 3 March 2012 will bring together international experts from physics, medicine and biology, in the domains of both diagnosis and treatment. They will present the latest advances in their respective disciplines and discuss novel ways of fighting cancer. “Over the last couple of decades, physicists, biologists and physicians felt strongly that the time had come to collaborate and interact more closely,” says Jacques Bernier, Head of the Radiotherapy Department at the Genolier Clinic in Switzerland and co-chair of the conference. “The collaboration is now mature and I hope that this joint conference will set up the basis for long-term cooperation.”

Among others, medical imaging is a typical example of the importance of tight collaboration between physicians, physicists and biologists. “Improvement of morphological and functional imaging not only allows earlier detection of small malignancies but can also help reduce the impact of the treatment’s side effects on healthy tissue. Standard techniques produce lesser-quality images, making it difficult to distinguish healthy tissue. Improving this quality with new imaging strategies could lead to better targeting of the tumoral mass,” says Jacques Bernier. High-precision imaging is a matter for physicists, who can contribute their state-of-the-art detectors and computing read-out solutions as well as experimenting with less toxic tracers.

Once the target is well identified, beams of particles can be used to kill the tumour – this is what hadron therapy is all about. “Hadron therapy has already proven effective, but biologists and physicians need to understand fully the processes involved in the treatment and its overall impact on the patient. Doctors also need to establish protocols to improve their medical practice. Indeed, while physicists aim to reach the highest possible precision and technical performance, doctors must make sure that the sophisticated machines can be effectively operated to be beneficial to patients,” observes Jacques Bernier.

The ICTR-PHE conference will feature the participation of world-renowned experts in the field of oncology. “We hope to create a global network in which information between scientists from the various disciplines can be successfully exchanged. This will also help industry to develop the necessary technologies. The common effort of all the parties involved will certainly maximise the effect of the therapy and, ultimately, will dramatically improve the quality of life of patients,” concludes Jacques Bernier.

by Fabio Capello