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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2018-11-28 11:00:54
    • Article ID: 704509

    The future of fighting cancer: zapping tumors in less than a second

    SLAC and Stanford researchers secure support for two projects that share one goal: to reduce the side effects of radiation therapy by vastly shrinking the length of a typical session.

    • Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

      Researchers at SLAC and Stanford are developing new accelerator-based technology that aims to speed up cancer radiation therapy by hundreds of times and make related medical devices more compact. The approach could reduce side effects in patients and possibly make radiation therapy more accessible around the world.

    • Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

      Proposed design of a future device for X-ray therapy, which researchers hope will be able to deliver radiation powerful enough to blast cancer cells in under a second instead of minutes. The project, called PHASER, relies on novel high-power accelerator structures (shown in bronze) under development at SLAC.

    • Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

      Prototype accelerator component for the PHASER project, which will use a novel accelerator design hundreds of times more powerful than accelerators in current devices for X-ray therapy.

    • Credit: Philipp Borchard/TibaRay

      The proposed PHASER design is compact enough to fit into standard cargo containers. Its transportability could help make radiation therapy for cancer more accessible around the world.

    Menlo Park, Calif. — New accelerator-based technology being developed by the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University aims to reduce the side effects of cancer radiation therapy by shrinking its duration from minutes to under a second. Built into future compact medical devices, technology developed for high-energy physics could also help make radiation therapy more accessible around the world.

    Now, the SLAC/Stanford team has received crucial funding to proceed with two projects to develop possible treatments for tumors – one using X-rays, the other using protons. The idea behind both is to blast cancer cells so quickly that organs and other tissues don’t have time to move during the exposure – much like taking a single freeze frame from a video. This reduces the chance that radiation will hit and damage healthy tissue around tumors, making radiation therapy more precise.

    “Delivering the radiation dose of an entire therapy session with a single flash lasting less than a second would be the ultimate way of managing the constant motion of organs and tissues, and a major advance compared with methods we’re using today,” said Billy Loo, an associate professor of radiation oncology at the Stanford School of Medicine.

    Sami Tantawi, a professor of particle physics and astrophysics and the chief scientist for the RF Accelerator Research Division in SLAC’s Technology Innovation Directorate, who works with Loo on both projects, said, “In order to deliver high-intensity radiation efficiently enough, we need accelerator structures that are hundreds of times more powerful than today’s technology. The funding we received will help us build these structures.”

    Blasting cancer with X-rays   

    The project called PHASER will develop a flash delivery system for X-rays.

    In today’s medical devices, electrons fly through a tube-like accelerator structure that’s about a meter long, gaining energy from a radiofrequency field that travels through the tube at the same time and in the same direction. The energy of the electrons then gets converted into X-rays. Over the past few years, the PHASER team has developed and tested accelerator prototypes with special shapes and new ways of feeding radiofrequency fields into the tube. These components are already performing as predicted by simulations and pave the way for accelerator designs that support more power in a compact size. 

    “Next, we’ll build the accelerator structure and test the risks of the technology, which, in three to five years, could lead to a first actual device that can eventually be used in clinical trials,” Tantawi said.

    The Stanford Department of Radiation Oncology will provide about $1 million over the next year for these efforts and support a campaign to raise more research funding. The Department of Radiation Oncology, in collaboration with the School of Medicine, has also established the Radiation Science Center focusing on precision radiation treatment. Its PHASER division, co-led by Loo and Tantawi, aims to turn the PHASER concept into a functional device.

    Making proton therapy more agile 

    In principle, protons are less harmful to healthy tissue than X-rays because they deposit their tumor-killing energy in a more confined volume inside the body. However, proton therapy requires large facilities to accelerate protons and adjust their energy. It also uses magnets weighing hundreds of tons that slowly move around a patient’s body to guide the beam into the target.

    “We want to come up with innovative ways to manipulate the proton beam that will make future devices simpler, more compact and much faster,” said Emilio Nanni, a staff scientist at SLAC, who leads the project with Tantawi and Loo.

    That goal could soon be within reach, thanks to a recent $1.7 million grant from the DOE Office of Science Accelerator Stewardship program to develop the technology over the next three years.

    “We can now move forward with designing, fabricating and testing an accelerator structure similar to the one in the PHASER project that will be capable of steering the proton beam, tuning its energy and delivering high radiation doses practically instantaneously,” Nanni said.

    Quick, effective and accessible

    In addition to making cancer therapy more precise, flash delivery of radiation also appears to have other benefits.

    “We’ve seen in mice that healthy cells suffer less damage when we apply the radiation dose very quickly, and yet the tumor-killing effect is equal to or even a little bit better than that of a conventional longer exposure,” Loo said. “If the result holds for humans, it would be a whole new paradigm for the field of radiation therapy.”

    Another key objective of the projects is to make radiation therapy more accessible for patients worldwide.

    Today, millions of patients around the world receive only palliative care because they don’t have access to cancer therapy, Loo said. “We hope that our work will contribute to making the best possible treatment available to more patients in more places.”

    That’s why the team is focusing on designing systems that are compact, power-efficient, economical, efficient to use in the clinical setting, and compatible with existing infrastructure around the world, Tantawi said: “The first broadly used medical linear accelerator design was invented and built at Stanford in the years leading up to the building of SLAC. The next generation could be a real game changer – in medicine and in other areas, such as accelerators for X-ray lasers, particle colliders and national security.”

    Peter Maxim at Stanford (now director of radiation oncology physics at Indiana University) is a co-inventor of PHASER and made key contributions to both projects. Additional members on the proton therapy team are Reinhard Schulte at Loma Linda University and Matthew Murphy at Varian Medical Systems.

    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. To learn more, please visit www.slac.stanford.edu.

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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    Defining Quality Virus Data(sets)

    In Nature Biotechnology, as more and more researchers continue to assemble new genome sequences of uncultivated viruses, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) led a community effort to develop guidelines and best practices for defining virus data quality.

    Ice Formed by Contact Freezing: Pressure Matters, Not Just Temperature

    Distortion of water droplet surface may increase the likelihood of the droplet freezing.

    Future Loss of Arctic Sea-Ice Cover Could Contribute to the Substantial Decrease in California's Rainfall

    A new modeling framework helps understand the consequences of future sea-ice loss in the Arctic.

    Tangled magnetic fields power cosmic particle accelerators

    Magnetic field lines tangled like spaghetti in a bowl might be behind the most powerful particle accelerators in the universe. That's the result of a new computational study by researchers from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which simulated particle emissions from distant active galaxies.

    Argonne scientists maximize the effectiveness of platinum in fuel cells

    In new research from the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and published in Science, scientists have identified a new catalyst that uses only about a quarter as much platinum as current technology by maximizing the effectiveness of the available platinum.

    Drawn into a Whirlpool: A New Way to Stop Dangerous Fast Electrons in a Fusion Device

    A new phenomena forms vortices that trap particles, impeding electron avalanches that harm fusion reactors.

    Barely scratching the surface: A new way to make robust membranes

    Argonne researchers have demonstrated a new technique's viability for membranes.

    During Droughts, Bacteria Help Sorghum Continue Growing

    Researchers discover how certain bacteria may safeguard plant growth during a drought, making way for strategies to improve crop productivity.

    Sierra Snowpack Could Drop Significantly By End of Century

    A future warmer world will almost certainly feature a decline in fresh water from the Sierra Nevada mountain snowpack. Now a new study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that analyzed the headwater regions of California's 10 major reservoirs, representing nearly half of the state's surface storage, found they could see on average a 79 percent drop in peak snowpack water volume by 2100.

    The Biermann Battery Effect: Spontaneous Generation of Magnetic Fields and Their Severing

    The mechanism responsible for creating intense magnetic fields in laser-driven plasmas also helps tear the fields apart.


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    DOE approves technical plan and cost estimate to upgrade Argonne facility; Project will create X-rays that illuminate the atomic scale, in 3D

    The U.S. Department of Energy has approved the technical scope, cost estimate and plan of work for an upgrade of the Advanced Photon Source, a major storage-ring X-ray source at Argonne.

    Costas Soukoulis elected to National Academy of Inventors

    Costas Soukoulis, Ames Laboratory senior scientist and Iowa State University Frances M. Craig Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor, has been named as a 2018 National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Fellow.

    Biophysicist F. William Studier Elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

    F. William Studier, a Senior Biophysicist Emeritus at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry at Stony Brook University, has been elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He is among 148 renowned academic inventors being recognized by NAI for 2018.

    Blast to the future

    A grant from DOE's Technology Commercialization Fund will help researchers at Argonne and industry partners seek improvements to U.S. manufacturing by making discovery and design of new materials more efficient.

    Department of Energy to Provide $24 Million for Computer-Based Materials Design

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans to provide $24 million in new and renewal research awards to advance the development of sophisticated software for computer-based design of novel materials.

    Argonne scientists recognized for decades of pioneering leadership in research

    Argonne scientists Ali Erdemir and Jack Vaughey were named 2018 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

    Kurfess, Smith join ORNL to lead advanced manufacturing initiatives

    Two leaders in US manufacturing innovation, Thomas Kurfess and Scott Smith, are joining the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory to support its pioneering research in advanced manufacturing.

    Four Berkeley Lab Scientists Named AAAS Fellows

    Four Berkeley Lab scientists - Allen Goldstein, Sung-Hou Kim, Susannah Tringe, and Katherine Yelick - have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general scientific society.

    U.S. Department of Energy to Host Nationwide CyberForce Competition(tm) December 1

    Students from dozens of colleges/universities will participate in the U.S. Department of Energy's CyberForce Competition(tm) this weekend

    Seven ORNL researchers named 2019 INCITE award winners

    Seven researchers from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have been chosen by the Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment, also known as INCITE, program to lead scientific investigations that require the nation's most powerful computers. The ORNL-based projects span a broad range of the scientific spectrum and represent the potential of high-performance computing in ensuring America's scientific competitiveness and energy security.


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    Ice Formed by Contact Freezing: Pressure Matters, Not Just Temperature

    Distortion of water droplet surface may increase the likelihood of the droplet freezing.

    Future Loss of Arctic Sea-Ice Cover Could Contribute to the Substantial Decrease in California's Rainfall

    A new modeling framework helps understand the consequences of future sea-ice loss in the Arctic.

    Drawn into a Whirlpool: A New Way to Stop Dangerous Fast Electrons in a Fusion Device

    A new phenomena forms vortices that trap particles, impeding electron avalanches that harm fusion reactors.

    During Droughts, Bacteria Help Sorghum Continue Growing

    Researchers discover how certain bacteria may safeguard plant growth during a drought, making way for strategies to improve crop productivity.

    The Biermann Battery Effect: Spontaneous Generation of Magnetic Fields and Their Severing

    The mechanism responsible for creating intense magnetic fields in laser-driven plasmas also helps tear the fields apart.

    Subtlety and the Selective Art of Separating Lanthanides

    Unexpected molecular interactions involving water clusters have a subtle, yet profound, effect on extractants picking their targets.

    Review Examines the Science and Needs of Nitrogen-Based Transformations

    Advances in biochemistry and catalysis could lead to faster, greener nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

    Quickly Capture Tiny Particles Reacting

    New method takes a snapshot every millisecond of groups of light-scattering particles, showing what happens during industrially relevant reactions.

    New Technology Consistently Identifies Proteins from a Dozen Cells

    A new platform melding microfluidics and robotics allows more in-depth bioanalysis with fewer cells than ever before.

    Optimal Foraging: How Soil Microbes Adapt to Nutrient Constraints

    How microbial communities adjust to nutrient-poor soils at the genomic and proteomic level gives scientists insights into land use.


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