CERN's role in medical applications

Last week, CERN hosted the first meeting of the International Strategy Committee for medical applications. This Committee will help CERN establish its roadmap in the field of research and development activities for medical applications. Here the CERN Bulletin speaks with the Chair of the Committee as he shares his expectations and his vision.


Dr Michael Baumann is the Director of the Radiation Oncology department at the Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital in Dresden and of the Institute for Radiooncology of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (Germany). He has recently been appointed Chair of CERN’s International Strategy Committee for medical applications – the team of experts who will advise the CERN Medical Applications Study Group led by Steve Myers. “CERN has a tremendous record in physics and basic research,” says Baumann. “I think that it has a very important role in steering some of the R&D that cannot be done at universities or medical centres.”

CERN’s flagship project in the biomedical field is OPENMED, a new facility that could use beams produced by LEIR. The feasibility study, which includes looking at the possible use of the facility to test detectors, is well under way but the project needs to fundraise to ensure its implementation. “Today, about 50% of cancer patients are treated with radiotherapy,” says Baumann. “However, we still need to do a lot of research to develop future improvements and, in this respect, it is vital to have a central laboratory that provides different beam qualities with the required specifications and for the appropriate duration needed. That can be done at CERN, thanks to its existing facilities and well-established expertise.”

Over the years, many universities, research institutes and hospitals have developed their own specific strategies, leading to the varied situation we observe today where not all facilities are state-of-the-art. “We need to create an international network to bring together all the teams involved, but, in parallel, we should also focus on developing cheaper and more compact technical solutions for particle therapy. These could then be used to treat a wider community in a better way,” comments Baumann.

At its first meeting, the newly established committee also discussed some of the concrete issues affecting particle therapy, including advanced image-guided particle therapy. “We do not yet have this possibility, although it is otherwise used in conventional photon therapy,” explains Baumann. “Basic science, engineering and, of course, medicine are deeply involved in developing this possibility. This is where we also need the precious expertise from laboratories like CERN.”

The committee is planning to set up working groups to tackle some of the issues discussed at the meeting. A very concrete follow-up is the decision to organise a meeting in Brussels in spring 2015 to bring together ESTRO, ENLIGHT, particle therapy centres in Europe, various institutes and networks involved with radiotherapy and CERN to discuss how to ensure that all parties are working in harmony. This is a much-needed step before undertaking specific fundraising activities for common projects that will help the wider community fight cancer with an improved strategy.

by Antonella Del Rosso