A proposal: LEIR to serve biomedicine

LEIR is the CERN facility that produces high-density ion beams for the LHC and for the SPS fixed target experiments. Since its operational schedule is not fully booked, LEIR could, in principle, be exploited even further. A brainstorming meeting recently took place at CERN to evaluate the possibility of modifying LEIR to serve the biomedical community. Discussions are in progress.


The Low Energy Ion Ring (LEIR).

LEIR is a small synchrotron with a circumference of about 78 m. It currently receives particles from Linac 3 and prepares beams for the SPS and the LHC. “In order for LEIR to be able to provide ion beams with appropriate energies for studies of interest for biomedical applications, a new ejection system with new beam lines needs to be designed,” explains Christian Carli, from the Beams Department. “In addition, Linac 3 could be upgraded to include a second ion source and a radio frequency quadrupole (RFQ) optimized for ions of interest for biomedical studies.”  

The biomedical-related activities could take place in “time-sharing mode”, that is, also during LHC ion runs. The LEIR facility could provide ion species from protons up to at least neon ions. Bio-targets (i.e. human cells, both malignant and normal) could then be tested in the beamlines, as well as innovative dosimetry systems, radiation detectors, and proton radiography and tomography devices.

The prerequisites are there for LEIR to attract the attention of the vast community of scientists – medical doctors, physicists, biologists, etc. – involved in hadron therapy, radiation protection and other biomedical applications. “Over 200 scientists from 26 countries, mostly from the European Union but also from Australia, Canada, Colombia, India, Mexico, Russia and USA, attended the brainstorming meeting,” says Manjit Dosanjh, in charge of life sciences at CERN and organiser of the event. “The 17 presentations raised many issues that were addressed by the participants. Several of them pointed out that CERN could be an ideal location for such a new facility because of the Laboratory’s expertise in beam production, detector development, advanced computing and analysis. The absence of clinical activities may also be an advantage since all efforts would be concentrated on research. Of course, our established links with other biomedical centres in Europe through networks like ENLIGHT are also an advantage.”

The new facility could also help to bring together members of the biomedical community to set up a training centre for researchers in this field, which requires knowledge and expertise in a large variety of disciplines.

Funds to build the new facility and the related infrastructure could come through the EU Framework Programme 8 (Horizon 2020). In this respect, the fact that the basic infrastructure already exists would ensure the necessary cost-effectiveness.  

Further details on the programme of the meeting and the material from the presentations can be found here.

by Antonella Del Rosso