Unlike X-rays, irradiation with laser protons is more effective and less harmful. However, modern proton therapy requires large particle accelerators, which include researchers investigating alternative accelerator concepts, such as laser protons, for the first time. Such systems are now used in preclinical experiments in the journalNature Physics (DOI: 10.1038/s41567-022-01520-3).
Radiation therapy is a variety of the most effective and powerful X-ray therapy methods. Protons the nuclei of hydrogen atoms accelerated to high energy levels and divided into large, precisely targetable bunches are the alternative. They are capable of deepening the tumor, destroying the cancer, while leaving the surrounding tissue largely intact. This technique is also beneficial in pediatric cancer patients to reduce potential long-term effects.
It requires extensive accelerator facilities to produce the fast protons and transport them to the patient. This is why there are only a few proton therapy clinics in Germany, which is currently open to professionals. Laser-based proton accelerators may make a significant contribution here.
Customized laser flashes
The protons had not used enough energy for irradiation so far, according to Beyreuther. Additionally, pulse intensity was too variable, so we couldnt make sure we were giving the appropriate dose. Nevertheless, over the last few years, scientists finally achieved significant improvements, mainly due to a better understanding of the interactions between the laser flashes and the foil. We can now customize proton pulses to produce those that have enough energy and are also stable enough.
New research requirements
The huge intensity of laser-accelerated proton pulses is that in conventional proton therapy, the radiation dose may only be administered in a few minutes, but the laser-based process might even benefit the health of the tissue within a millionth of a second. Listed below are some examples of such a rapid irradiation method, according to Elke Beyreuther. We want to conduct preclinical tests to investigate when and how this rapid irradiation method should be used in cancer therapy.