Ideas that break through

The EU-cofunded project ULICE (Union of Light Ion Centres in Europe) was launched in 2009 in response to the need to share clinical experience in hadron therapy treatment in Europe and knowledge of the associated complex technical aspects. After four successful years of activity the project is now over but the “transnational access” idea will survive thanks to an extension granted by the European Commission.


A treatment room at CNAO, the Italian centre for hadron therapy. CNAO is participating in ULICE’s transnational access initiative. Image: CNAO.

Until a few years ago, the landscape of hadron therapy in Europe was advancing in a fragmented way and facilities were being built without a common shared approach. EU-cofunded projects such as ENLIGHT, ULICE, PARTNER, ENVISION and ENTERVISION helped to build a unified platform where the different – private and public – stakeholders were able to share their views and practical experience in the field.

Today, although some of the above-mentioned projects are over, their legacy remains and has paved the way for new projects. One of the achievements of the recently completed ULICE programme was to provide patients and their referring physicians, as well as researchers, with free access to hadron beams at particle treatment facilities across Europe. “Existing facilities in Heidelberg and CNAO have agreed to provide a total of 691 hours of beamtime for research and clinical activity, after judging applications on scientific quality and clinical relevance,” says Manjit Dosanjh, who is in charge of life sciences at CERN and is the CERN representative in the ULICE consortium. “The clear benefit of such an activity has prompted the European Union to extend the ULICE project by 12 months to the end of August 2014.”

The extended beamtime is an important acknowledgement of the whole hadron-therapy community in Europe. Specialised centres for the treatment of tumours are acquiring precious experience, which is being shared by all the experts involved, thus  greatly benefiting patients. New centres, such as MedAustron in Austria, are also important stakeholders in this process. The successful ideas, such as ULICE’s transnational access, will also be implemented in new facilities like ours,” says Ramona Mayer, Medical Director at MedAustron. “Our centre is approaching the operational phase and we will benefit a lot from the experience of four former PARTNER researchers to provide the best possible treatment for our future patients.” 

Networking and sharing are key elements of hadron therapy because the field is developing fast and techniques have yet to be optimised. The efforts made by the European hadron-therapy community recently gained prestigious recognition when the European Commission chose the ENTERVISION programme as a “gold project” in the advertising campaign for Horizon 2020.

Watch the video about ULICE's Transnational Access initiative including interviews with doctors and hadron-therapy experts from various medical centres in Europe.

The second International Conference on Translational Research in Radio-Oncology and Physics for Health in Europe (ICTR-PHE) will take place from 10 to 14 February 2014 in Geneva. The abstract submission and early registration deadline is 30 September 2013.

by Antonella Del Rosso