A clean bill of health for CERN’s medical applications office

Many of you will have had the opportunity to follow the seminar on medical applications given by two members of our new International Strategy Committee for medical applications on 20 November. This occasion gives me a good opportunity to take stock of what’s been achieved since we set up our office for medical applications under Steve Myers almost a year ago.


It’s already an impressive list of achievements, and one that’s poised to grow. The International Strategy Committee is perhaps the most visible part of it. Meeting for the first time last week, the Committee will help us focus and prioritise our efforts so we can extract the maximum benefit. The existence of the office itself is already a major step in this direction: today, instead of having seven separate medical initiatives at CERN, we have a single coordinated approach and each component benefits.

Let’s take a look at the current state of progress. The study to develop LEIR into the OPENMED biomedical research facility is complete, and fundraising has begun. The MEDICIS medical isotope facility is on track to begin operation in 2016. A study for a compact hadron therapy accelerator is under way, and we have taken out a patent on a high-frequency radio-frequency quadrupole, RFQ, that could be the front end for such a machine as well as having many other potential medical applications. Another exciting development is the establishment of a team to look at the potential for hadron therapy in areas other than cancer treatment: certain neurological and cardiac disorders appear to be worth further study.

The medical applications office has also been busy establishing collaborations, both within CERN and further afield. Discussions are ongoing within our IT Department to look at the issue of medical data storage, transfer and analysis using CERN expertise in the field, while our OPENLAB partners are looking at the question of large-scale computing for health applications. Beyond CERN, we are talking to teams at hospitals and universities in the local region, several CERN Member States, the USA, Japan, China, Australia, South America, South Africa and South Korea.

The talks on 20 November are a facet of a much more profound shift in CERN’s approach to medical applications. And it’s an important shift. Basic research in physics is and always will be our core mission; yet we owe it to society to ensure that our technology and expertise deliver immediate and tangible benefits wherever possible. One year on, we can give our new office for medical applications a very clean bill of health.

Rolf Heuer