The agreement between the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics and the Belgian firm Iba for the marketing, in biomedical field, of the first superconductive cyclotron producing protons and carbon ions as well, has been made official today. The innovative project, that will developed by the Infn Southern National Laboratories and realized with the contribution of the Iba specific twenty-year experience in the field of cyclotrons for medical applications, was conceived for the hospital centres of oncological hadrontherapy.
Hadrontherapy is one of the most refined radiotherapic technique for tumours treatment. It uses hadrons, that is to say charged particles made up from quarks, as protons and ions. These particles, contrary to what occurs in radiotherapy, can be directed with precision against the tumour mass, with minimum risks to hit vital organs and surrounding healthy tissues. In particular ions have a higher radiobiological effect: they can hit in fact deep tumours, for this reason they are particular indicated for radioresistent tumours, such as cerebral tumours, the ones of the head-neck area and lung and pancreas carcinoma. Therapy with protons is instead indicated for tumours located near organs at risk, such as eye, head base, or along the backbone, because they allow to direct the beam form in a more refined way.
Up today the only instruments able to produce protons and ions as well for hadrontherapy are synchrotrons: accelerators machines, much more complex, bulkier and expensive than cyclotrons. A synchrotron consists indeed of a ring with a diameter of at least 25 metres, while a cyclotron is a compact instrument with a diameter of 5 metres and with a considerably lower cost. In the context of its studies for the development of new syncrotrons, Infn has worked for the development of a multiparticle cyclotron, able to provide protons and carbon ions with the energy required for hadrontherapic treatments. "The new cyclotron offers a great technological advantage. Thanks to it, for the first time a doctor will have the opportunity to choose to produce ions or protons, according to the kind of tumour, with a compact, easily to manage and decidedly cheaper instrument than the traditional one. With the ions produced by this new machine, it will possible to treat tumours at a maximum depth of 18 centimetres", explain Giacomo Cuttone and Luciano Calabretta of Infn Southern National Laboratories.
There are in the world several centres for hadrontherapy, most of all in Japan and in the United States. In Italy there is the sperimental project Catana (Hadrontherapy Centre and Advanced Nuclear Applications). Started at the Infn Southern National Laboratories in cooperation with Catania University, Catana is dedicated to the treatment with protons of eye tumour (up today the treated patients are 112). Concerning hadrontherapy with ions, there are in Europe two structures under construction: one is the Heidelberg University clinic, in Germany, the other is the National Centre of Hadrontherapy that will rise in Pavia, from the collaboration between the Cnao foundation and Infn.
The new cyclotron developed by Infn and realized by Iba will be able to enrich the therapeutic power of hadrontherapy centres.