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Research Area C.3

Detection of the DNA damage marker gamma-H2AX (stained green) after irradiation of tumour cells at SNAKE with single ions applied in a crossing line pattern. The cell nucleus in the upper right corner rotated during the 1 h post-irradiation incubation before fixation.

Radiotherapy and radiation biology

Laser-driven ion acceleration is a promising approach to build compact particle treatment units for therapeutic applications in medicine. By replacing large installations of conventional particle therapy systems, this technology could make the favourable properties of particle beams available to a higher number of cancer patients than today. The previous funding period brought considerable progress of laser-driven particle sources and we performed various radiobiological experiments investigating the biological effects of ultrashort-pulsed particle beams.

Our long-term goal is the development of compact, cost-efficient treatment units based on laser-driven proton, ion or brilliant X-ray beams. Combined with the advanced imaging methods, laser-driven radiation therapy techniques are expected to significantly improve the clinical outcome by targeting early disease stages and by exploiting the favourable characteristics of particle beams. Additionally, we strive for a better understanding of the physical and biological mechanisms in the interaction of proton and ion beams with tissue and the potential impact on clinical applications.

For the forthcoming funding period, we aim to develop the required beamline instrumentation for laser-driven proton, ion and X-ray beams in order to translate these radiation sources from a pure physics environment to pre-clinical applications for radiotherapy research. This involves the demonstration of radiobiological experiments with laser-driven beam on cells, tissue models and most prominently on small animals in vivo. In addiation, we will study radiation biology of proton and ion beams in a well defined, conventionally accelerated microbeam to elucidate the mechanisms leading to the enhanced effectiveness of ion beams.

Main objectives for 2012-2017:

a) Development of methods for online characterisation, monitoring and dosimetry of laser-driven ion beams for biomedical applications

b) Development of efficient techniques of beam transport and dose shaping for laser-driven ion beams for first irradiations of animals and towards later applications in clinical radiation oncology

c) Understanding the reasons for the enhanced relative biological efficiency (RBE) of irradiation with carbon ions and to investigate the biological factors affecting the RBE

d) Investigation in biomedical aspects of laser-driven particle therapy by comparing proton and carbon ion irradiation and by studying focused proton microbeams

e) Translation of contrast-enhanced radiotherapy with brilliant X-rays to compact laser-driven sources and to demonstrate phase-contrast image-guided radiotherapy in small animals